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How deal data gets sliced and diced is a tricky business, especially for law firms trying to measure their mergers and acquisitions activity against competitors. Consider Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich’s performance in Thomson Financial’s mergers and acquisitions data for the first quarter. When tallied by number of deals, Gray Cary’s activity level tied the firm for 10th place nationwide among M&A firms. But when firms were ranked according to the value of their deals, Gray Cary was nowhere to be found. East Coast firms hold all of the top slots. Gray Cary partner Diane Holt Frankle contends the comparisons are often unfair. “The difficulty is that our deal sizes have gone down with the burst of the bubble,” Frankle said. “We like to think we’re a player,” Frankle said. “You’re kind of depressed in this economy, but then you see that you’re still nationally ranked and you think ‘it could be worse.’” Among Bay Area firms, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Cooley Godward are in the same boat. Wilson closed 24 deals and Cooley closed nine in the first quarter, according to Thomson Financial. But the firms are no-shows along with Gray Cary when it comes to the 25 firms with the biggest deal values. It all comes down to which chart the firms want to highlight. Thomson Financial’s closely watched deal scorecards rank law firms by the value of the transactions as well as by number of deals. Thomson also generates separate lists for closed deals and deals that were announced in a given period. Shearman & Sterling, for example, closed 14 deals in the first three months of this year and tied for 10th place with Gray Cary. But the total value of its deals was $12.2 billion compared to Gray Cary’s deal total of $528 million. That kind of comparison is enough to make an M&A lawyer go from feeling mighty pleased to a bit defensive. “Everything that’s based on value is going to have a skew to firms on the East Coast,” Frankle said. “In this economy, it’s harder for us to hit those numbers.” And deal value is tricky because it doesn’t reveal whether the deal was complicated — or perhaps more important — drummed up big billables, she said. “Just because you don’t represent the biggest companies doesn’t mean you don’t deal with the most sophisticated issues,” Frankle said. At the end of the day, however, it’s good enough just to be nominated, so to speak. “It’s not that people aren’t using Gray Cary,” Frankle said. “It’s that there aren’t more deals.”

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