Herbert Smith tops M&A rankings with help from Sanofi-Synthelabo

Herbert Smith is at the top of Mergermarket’s announced European M&A league tables by value for the first time, partly thanks to its role on the first quarter’s mega-deal Sanofi-Synthelabo’s €53bn (£35.36bn) hostile bid for Aventis.

The hostile bid, which could create the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical company, has dominated the deals-by-value tables, with 16 law firms acting.

Sanofi aside, it has been a quiet three months, with deal volume down compared with the same quarter last year. The leaders of the Mergermarket’s 2003 by-volume table, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, advised on 48 and 45 deals respectively, compared with 37 and 26 for the first quarter of 2004.

Herbert Smith’s secondary role for Merrill Lynch, Sanofi’s financial adviser, propelled it to the top of the by-value table for announced deals. The firm advised on 23 deals in the first quarter of 2004, with a total value of just less than €75bn (£50bn), of which Sanofi made up more than 70 per cent.

Aside from Sanofi, the firm is acting on the next biggest transactions in Europe – advising Braco SA on the sale of its stake in AmBev to Interbrew and advising members of the Brascan vehicle bidding for Canary Wharf.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Europe’s biggest firm according to The Lawyer Euro100, took second place, while Clifford Chance ranked fourth and Linklaters fifth. Last year, Clifford Chance ranked first in both deals by volume and by value, while Linklaters came in second.

Linklaters, however, had a star role on Sanofi. Paris star Thierry Vassogne scooped the most coveted role in the market, winning the instruction as lead counsel for Sanofi after the medical giant’s preferred counsel, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, was conflicted out.

Sanofi has also ensured a strong showing by French firms in the tables. In addition to Linklaters, Sanofi has also instructed Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier and Rambaud Martel, while Jean-Francois Prat of Bredin Prat is advising Aventis. Aventis’s US counsel Sullivan & Cromwell took third spot in the table.

The results demonstrate yet again the success with which US firms have penetrated high-end European M&A. Of the leading 20 firms by value, seven hail from the US. Of those, Sullivan & Cromwell, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Willkie Farr & Gallagher have key roles in the Sanofi bid.

While UK firms dominate in the deals by volume arena, just five UK firms – Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith and Linklaters – feature in the European top 20 by value. However, the tables confirm the view that while US firms command value, UK firms excel in volume. Of the top 10 firms ranked by volume, only Baker & McKenzie is headquartered outside the UK.

Top 10 firms by value
Rank Firm Value €bn Value £bn No of deals
1 Herbert Smith, Gleiss Lutz, Stibbe 74.99 50.03 23
2 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 72.75 48.54 35
3 Sullivan & Cromwell 72.74 48.53 9
4 Clifford Chance 71.37 47.62 37
5 Linklaters 71.34 47.60 35
6 Bredin Prat 61.90 41.30 6
7 Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom 59.05 39.40 6
8 Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz 55.18 36.82 5
9 Willkie Farr & Gallagher 54.76 36.53 5
10 Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier 54.29 36.22 3
Source: Mergermarket