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Freehills confirmed M&A favourite

Freehills confirmed M&A favourite

FREEHILLS’ COMMANDING performance in mergers and acquisitions has been confirmed in the second-quarter league tables from Thomson Financial, in which the firm dominated both the Australia and…

FREEHILLS’ COMMANDING performance in mergers and acquisitions has been confirmed in the second-quarter league tables from Thomson Financial, in which the firm dominated both the Australia and New Zealand, and Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) markets.

The firm came first place in both announced and confirmed deals for the first half of 2007 in Australia and New Zealand, with the most deals, highest rank value and greatest market share.

Freehills announced 79 deals giving it 45.7 per cent of the market, or $60.97 billion in rank value. According to corporate partner Rebecca Maslen-Stannage, the firm’s success comes largely down to a well-staffed M&A team, whose combined experience offers clients a fast turnaround in transaction advice.

Maslen-Stannage said the fact that transaction timelines have been shortening over the past two years across the industry has ended up working in Freehills’ favour.

“There is more pressure, but at the same time, the more you do it, the quicker you get,” she said. “If you want to get a transaction done quickly, you’ve just got to use someone who has done a similar deal three or four times before.”

Along with the increasing pressure comes inevitable concerns about retaining sought after M&A lawyers, but the Freehills partner said the mounting work was helping to keep their lawyers contented.

“We’ve got really talented people, and we take a lot of care that we appreciate their talent — to stretch them and let them use it,” she said.

One of the notable trends in the past six months has been the increasing presence of institutional shareholders in the minds of M&A strategists, Maslen-Stannage said.

“If you look at Qantas, Rebel Sport and Flight Centre, the institutions are stepping up and getting actively involved in M&A deals, and they are coming out early and taking public positions, which are influencing the success of the deal,” she said.

“That’s a pretty fascinating development if you’re an M&A lawyer, because now we have got to stay one step ahead of the game by thinking ‘how can we structure this transaction to make sure that we appeal to the institutional shareholders as well, and don’t let them effectively block the deal because it’s just not attractive to them?’”

Clayton Utz was the nearest competitor in announced deals, with 26.1 per cent of the market from 51 deals worth $34.84 billion. This represented a solid jump from 11th position in the same quarter for 2006, and a 333.3 per cent increase in rank value.

In third place was Mallesons Stephen Jaques, with $28.95 billion from 73 deals, winning it 21.7 per cent of the market — and improvement on fifth place for the same time in 2006. This was followed by Minter Ellison, who leapt from 19th in 2006 to fourth on the back of 42 announced deals worth $25.46 billion or 19.1 per cent.

Allens Arthur Robinson dropped from third position in 2006 to fifth for the first half of 2007, with 15.4 per cent of the market from 39 deals and $20.55 billion. Blake Dawson Waldron dropped a little further, from second in 2006 to sixth in 2007, with 38 deals worth $19.10 billion or 14.3 per cent of market share.

Of the remaining notable Australian players in the top 25, Baker & McKenzie rose from 29th in 2006 to eighth in 2007, with 6.5 per cent of the market from 24 deals and $8.72 billion.

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