Linklaters, Slaughters and Freshfields top of their class as corporate deals soar

Linklaters, Slaughters and Freshfields top of their class as corporate deals soar” />With Slaughter and May leading the way, the corporate-heavy firms have astonished everyone during the first six months of the year.

Linklaters partners can fly off to their partnership conference in Monte Carlo next weekend happy with £100m more in the bank than at this stage last year. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s results are even better, but with a major restructuring underway, now is not the time to sing about it.

The three firms have scooped a series of multibillion-pound deals during the past six months.

Slaughters advised RWE on the £8bn disposal of Thames Water, Associated British Ports on its £2.4bn takeover by a Goldman Sachs-led consortium and Corus on its takeover by Tata Steel. Other jobs include advising Unilever on the £1.73bn sale of its frozen foods division and Standard Life on its demutualisation and flotation on the London Stock Exchange.

In addition to the influx of M&A, Linklaters’ headline deals include a number of equity offerings, with a big assist from its European offices. Deals include the E1.4bn (£937.74m) IPO of Aéroports de Paris, the IPO of Italian scooter icon Piaggio and aseries of Spanish IPOs culminating in the E857m (£574m) offering of BME, the holding company for the Spanish stock exchanges, believed to be the biggest IPO in Spain this year.

SJ Berwin senior partner Jonathan Blake also paid tribute to his firm’s European offices after praising the “incredible” contribution of his private equity unit, which has secured a string of deals for clients such as Lion Capital, TDR and Merchant Equity Partners. But the buoyant market has not been restricted to corporate. Taylor Wessing‘s best-performing department was private client, which shot up by more than 20 per cent compared with a UK revenue jump of 14 per cent. Revenues from France and Germany dragged that figure up to 24 per cent.

Managing partner Michael Frawley said: “They’re flying. We have a big synergy between private client and corporate.” He also cited the employment department as a strong performer, followed by IP and litigation.

Those firms with more of a litigation bias are more cautious. At Clyde & Co litigation and insurance are flat, but the corporate/commercial team is up, prompting a 5 per cent increase overall. Since the last corporate boom it has grown corporate and so is less reliant on litigation.

Peter Hasson, Clydes chief executive, said: “Levels of activity in insurance are much lower than they have been. We’re quite happy with the progress we’re making in other areas. If market conditions continue, we’re expecting to be 8 or 9 per cent up at the end of the year. We think we’re in good shape compared with the last time we faced these sort of conditions.”

Litigation-heavy Richards Butler has made a concerted effort to boost its corporate department in recent years, which has paid off this year. A string of deals for Microsoft has helped Richards Butler achieve 14 per cent growth.

“The corporate practice has been hotter than other practices, but they’ve all been going reasonably well,” said Reed Smith UK managing partner Tim Foster, who will soon be the UK managing partner of Reed Smith Richards Butler.

Foster hopes the merger will boost corporate further, making it better hedged than it once was.

In the top 20, only Clydes, CMS Cameron McKenna, Hammonds, Lovells and Norton Rose did not record double-digit percentage increases. Camerons will be particularly alarmed to find itself in such company.

But with less than half of the firm’s revenue coming from M&A and banking, Camerons managing partner Dick Tyler admitted that the firm was “slightly underweight” in the booming practices.

Tyler said he expects a stronger second half. “I’m not punching the air, but I’m not going to be jumping off the Eiffel Tower either,” he said. “We’re only at half-time.”