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Private equity-led mergers helped push the value of North American mergers up by 35% to $1.44 trillion in 2006 and swelled the coffers of top corporate law firms that helped seal the deals. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of New York led a preliminary 2006 survey that ranked legal advisers by the value of their North American deals. The survey was released by mergermarket, a part of The Mergermarket Group, a London-based mergers and acquisitions analysis firm. The group based the rankings on announced deals between Jan. 1 and Dec. 20, 2006. Skadden advised on 221 deals valued at $522.6 billion and replaced top-ranked 2005 firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, also based in New York. The total value of deals Skadden advised on also jumped by more than 65% last year, giving the firm a 36.5% market share. New York M&A partner Thomas H. Kennedy said the firm is typically among the top-ranked M&A firms and that this year was “particularly busy,” notably with an increase in private equity work. “We’re a very broad and deep M&A firm and this year’s performance reflects a terrific year for M&A,” Kennedy said. Skadden’s largest deal in 2006 was advising Luxembourg steel giant Arcelor S.A. on its $33.8 billion merger with Netherlands-based Mittal Steel Co. N.V. Sullivan & Cromwell of New York placed second on the 2006 deal value list with 129 deals totaling $507.6 billion, followed by Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett, which closed 109 deals worth a total of $495.4 billion. Simpson was an adviser on the largest private equity deal in history and 2006′s second-largest deal as of Dec. 20, the $35 billion leveraged buyout of Equity Office Properties Trust by the Blackstone Real Estate Partners affiliate of New York-based Blackstone Group L.P. Private equity deals are a boon for law firms because they’re more complex than strategic mergers between two companies and private-equity firms seek more advice from firms, said Sullivan & Cromwell Chairman H. Rodgin Cohen. Such deals involve at least one additional law firm beyond the buy-and sell-side attorneys to represent a special committee of the board of directors that oversees the deals. “Private equity needs more support in due diligence,” Cohen said. “There are often a lot more issues, and strategic buyers tend to have very large in-house staffs.” The complex financing arrangements and relationships among the various private equity funds involved in a buying consortium add up to more legal work in such deals, added Latham & Watkins’ Mark D. Gerstein, a Chicago partner who co-chairs the firm’s mergers and acquisitions group. Latham topped the rankings by volume, advising on 233 deals worth a total of $276.4 billion. Both Latham and second-ranked Jones Day, which advised on 227 deals collectively worth $160.6 billion, credited their firms’ global reach for their wealth of M&A work. More than half of Jones Day’s mergers and acquisitions lawyers are outside the United States, said New York partner Robert Profusek, who co-chairs the firm’s mergers & acquisitions practice. Gerstein said Latham’s largest deals, such as its leadership of a consortium that acquired Mirant Asia-Pacific Ltd. of Hong Kong for $3.4 billion, reflect its geographic diversity. “We’ve had our chips on all the numbers this year and they’ve all paid off,” Gerstein said.

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