Goodwin Procter, Sullivan & Cromwell M&A teams shine in deal boom

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Goodwin Procter offices in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Global M&A has surpasses $4 trillion this year
  • Deal value is up 92% from Q1-Q3 2020

(Reuters) - The value of global M&A deals has sailed past $4 trillion so far this year, easily breaking past records. And Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers had a hand in a whopping $535 billion of those deals through the third quarter, according to data from Refinitiv, more than any other law firm.

"While it is always difficult to predict how busy the global M&A markets will be in the future, given our level of activity we expect to be busy well into 2022 and, hopefully, beyond," Frank Aquila, the global head of Sullivan & Cromwell's M&A practice, said in a statement.

The firm is far from alone in riding the global M&A wave. Latham & Watkins was principal advisor on $413.2 billion in announced deals through Q3, ranking first in that category. And Boston-founded Goodwin Procter was top-ranked by the number of global deals it handled, advising on 769 deals – all but two as principal advisor.

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Goodwin is cementing its place as a dealmaking machine after leading the full-year volume rankings last year, once again beating out Kirkland & Ellis and Latham, both of which advised on more than 600 deals apiece so far in 2021.

“Steady levels of innovation and investment across the technology, life sciences, private equity, real estate, and financial industries have kept our clients phenomenally busy," Goodwin chairman Rob Insolia said in a statement.

The picture at the top doesn't change much when focusing on announced deals with any U.S. involvement – Sullivan & Cromwell's U.S. deal work topped $453 billion in value so far this year, while Goodwin worked on 690 deals.

The Refinitiv data shows several firms gaining or losing ground this year. In terms of announced global deals as ranked by deal value:

- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer dropped to 10th from fourth place

- Simpson Thacher & Bartlett rose to fifth from 13th place

- Davis, Polk & Wardwell, the reigning firm this time last year, is currently ranked sixth

- Cravath, Swaine & Moore has risen to ninth place from 25th place

The value of all announced global M&A transactions combined is up 92% compared with the first three quarters of 2020, according to Refinitiv.

But even on a quarterly basis, the numbers are eye-popping – the summer produced $1.6 trillion in deals. Refinitiv says that's more than any other quarter on record.

"In the midst of the longest M&A cycle in history, which has been undeterred by politics, trade wars and referendums, perhaps it’s not surprising that an unprecedented global pandemic would supercharge deal making in every region, in every sector and across every deal type," Matt Toole, director of deals intelligence at Refinitiv, said in a statement.

That dealmaking frenzy has had downstream effects on the law firms that advise them. With demand so strong, law firms are scrambling for bodies to keep up, making for a job-seekers market in corporate practices, driving up salaries and increasing pressure to keep bleary-eyed associates from jumping ship.

Read more:

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Recruiters try to keep up as demand for associates hits overdrive

White & Case takes lead on global deals amid 1H M&A surge

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.