Sweet Sixteen: Sullivan & Cromwell

Star practices/people
Sullivan & Cromwell was founded on the premise of securing involvement in the world’s top deals, an ambition helped immeasurably by it long being Goldman Sachs’s law firm of choice.

In 2007 Sullivan achieved its ambition in spades. Number one in the 2007 global and US M&A tables on value, Sullivan also snared lead roles on seven of the top 10 global deals last year, including BHP Billiton’s bid for Rio Tinto, Enel’s bid for Endesa and The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s takeover of BCE.
Sullivan’s strength is its generalist approach and ­collection of general practitioners with the skill sets and fluidity to handle whatever comes through the door. On the M&A side, stars include Jim Morphy, Joe Frumkin, Frank Aquila and in London Richard Morrissey, who led the team last year ­advising Scottish Power on its $24.9bn (£12.4bn) sale to ­Iberdrola.

Sullivan’s involvement in a succession of high-octane, politically charged sovereign wealth investments into US banks last year underscored its position as one of the go-to firms when the going gets tough. Sullivan’s indefatigable
presiding partner Rodgin Cohen and his sidekick Mitch Eitel led the charge on the bulk of the sovereign wealth deals.

Sullivan’s deliberately top-end practice means there are still gaps that could be filled. ­Although it is still small in ­London, kudos for sticking to quality, and it has clearly made some outstanding hires (think Tim Emmerson from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer via Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy and Vanessa ­Blackmore from Allen & Overy). But will this approach ever get it to a ­similar level in London as it is in the US?

Like Slaughter and May or ­Cravath Swaine & Moore, it is top-end work only for Sullivan – one of the keys to its brand. ­Unlike those Sweet Sixteen firms, Sullivan has invested ­(relatively lightly) overseas to ­ensure that its international client base, already more than 50 per cent of its practice, stays that way. Expect to see Sullivan ­continue to grow in London and elsewhere; the firm’s Paris office has already become an influential player in France.

New York and London are Sullivan’s two largest offices and right now a key focus is on ­growing the latter. Blackmore as co-London head earlier this year was a statement of intent.

The verdict
Sullivan is well-placed among the top financial ­institutions, particularly with Goldman Sachs, whose trajectory it has followed. If it ain’t broke…