Despite growing economic uncertainty around the world, the volume and value of projects underway has grown for most leading firms. However, Clifford Chance has swept the board with a massive 52 per cent increase in the number, and a 53 per cent hike in total value, of projects underway last year, according to research by Privatisation International magazine.
Clifford Chance advised on 254 deals valued at $126bn, compared with Baker & McKenzie's 223 deals worth $109bn, and Linklaters' 139 deals worth £100bn.
The firm's record performance for 1997-98 compares with 167 deals worth $82bn for 1996-97, when it came third after Linklaters, at number one, and Baker & McKenzie.
The firm's increase in figures for 1997 is due in part to improved internal reporting, admitted Rodney Short, head of Clifford Chance's worldwide project group. But he added: "There has been an increase in the level of business reflected throughout our network of offices abroad."
The firm's growth in activity has been most noticeable in the Middle East, Latin America, and the UK where private finance initiative work - particularly in the healthcare sector - has re-started under the new government.
Projects in China have also begun to come on stream, notably the $2.3bn Shangdong power project, water schemes at Jinan and Binzhou worth $180m, and the $100m Guangquing Expressway.
Alan Black, Linklaters' head of global project finance, said that despite economic uncertainty the bulk of major projects would continue. "Every country needs infrastructure," he said.
Privatisation International's eighth annual survey found differing patterns of business among lawyers, with some firms specialising in certain regions. US firm Sullivan & Cromwell topped the league for firms in Latin America and came fifth in Eastern Europe, despite coming 14th overall. Linklaters led in Western Europe, White & Case led in the Middle East, and Simmons & Simmons topped the list for UK projects. Clifford Chance and Baker & McKenzie were strong in all regions.