KWM topped both the Mergermarket Australasian league table for deals value and the Bloomberg Australia and New Zealand legal advisory table by deal count for 2014. According to Mergermarket, KWM acted on deals worth a combined value of US$34.3 billion (all figures are US$).
This placed KWM ahead of its nearest rivals Allens ($32.8 billion) and Herbert Smith Freehills ($28.8 billion). Minters (fourth) and Gilbert + Tobin (seventh) were the only Australian firms in the top 10.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly in December, senior KWM partner Peter Stirling (pictured) said that firms needed to demonstrate expertise and flexibility on price to get a seat at the deals table in what is an incredibly competitive domestic market.
“Clients are still very much price-focused and to get deals to happen, you need to discount to some extent or share the pain with clients if deals don’t proceed,” he said, adding the caveat that time-costing is still the preferred billing method for a majority of his clients.
“I think the whole market on the law firm and client side is still finding its way as to what the best models on alternate pricing are,” he said. “We are seeing a stronger desire from clients for us to cap or go further [with discounts] in components of transactions, so there is a degree of certainty as to what costs will be.”
Stirling cited the Medibank Private IPO and accelerated roll-out of Australia’s National Broadband Network as two particularly noteworthy transactions that involved KWM in 2014.
According to Bloomberg, which ranks the number of announced transactions over $5 million, KWM acted on the most number of deals in 2014 in Australia and New Zealand. KWM acted on 80 deals, pipping Herbert Smith Freehills (79) and Ashurst (64).
While Allens was fourth on the list for deal numbers, it was the leading firm by deal value, according to Bloomberg.
Allens, which has an alliance with Linklaters, advised on transactions worth a total of just under $34 billion in 2014. The only other firms to act on deals with a cumulative total over $20 billion were KWM ($28.7 billion), HSF ($24.6 billion) and Linklaters ($22 billion).
Jones Day, Latham & Watkins and Kirkland & Ellis were the leading firms globally by deal count, according to Bloomberg. Skadden, Cleary Gottlieb and Sullivan & Cromwell were the top three firms globally by deal value in Mergermarket’s analysis. They were the only three firms to break the $500 billion mark by deal value.
Return to good times?
The Bloomberg and Mergermarket analyses pointed to a much stronger M&A market in 2014 when compared with 2013.
“2014 was the tipping point for M&A, the year in which the lingering effects of the financial crisis were finally shaken off,” said Bloomberg.
Mergermarket’s analysis pointed to a 47 per cent increase in global deal value in 2014 as compared to 2013. This was just under 12 per cent shy of the value of M&A deals in 2007 – prior to the GFC. The Mergermarket survey said that in 2014, the total value of deals in the Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan), was just under $600 billion, a 43 per cent increase on 2013.
“There is a really good pipeline,” said Stirling, when discussing the domestic M&A market in 2015. “The catchword around here as we move into 2015 is infrastructure. “There is a lot of potential M&A activity in that space,” he said.
See Lawyers Weekly magazine in early February for a longer interview with Peter Stirling and other legal leaders, including Baker & McKenzie head Chris Freeland and Webb Henderson founder Angus Henderson as they talk about what we can expect in 2015 in the legal market and also on tackling legal ill-health and gender equality