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Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz heads a familiar pack of New York law firms in mergers and acquisitions activity in the first half of the year. The firm jumped to the number one spot for announced U.S. deals based on dollar value, from number 14 during the same period last year, according to Thomson Financial. New York law firms with old-economy clients commanded the top 10 places on the deal table, although overall the volume of deals has fallen off significantly. The total value of M&A activity tumbled from more than $886 billion in the first half of last year to just over $380 billion this year. The current decline continues the drop in deal activity that started in the fourth quarter of last year. Despite a roaring start, overall activity in 2000 was down by about 7 percent from the previous year. Frank Gittes, head of the M&A practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which ranked second in the six-month chart, said that despite the slowdown, there were still some reasonably sized deals happening, although they “were not seeing as many of the supertanker deals.” He said the drop-off in deal activity could be attributed in part to the uncertain economic environment. “Where companies are uncomfortable projecting near term earnings performance, it makes things difficult for both buyers and sellers.” The constrained debt market was also taking its toll, he said. NARROW MARKET Wachtell partner Daniel Neff said that deal activity seemed more focused in discrete sectors such as financial services and, to a lesser extent, oil and gas, in contrast to the prior two years, which saw high levels of across-the-board activity. Wachtell worked on 23 transactions valued at more than $88 billion in total, including the $23 billion American General Corp./American International Group merger. In the first half of last year, Wachtell handled nearly $115 billion in announced deals. Skadden ranked second this year, with 62 deals worth about $81 billion. The firm rose up the ranks from third, though deal value plummeted from the $288 billion it handled in the first half of last year. Cravath, Swaine & Moore captured the bronze in the first half of the year, advising on 28 deals worth nearly $65 billion. Sullivan & Cromwell came in fourth in the standings, ceding its first-place ranking from the first half of last year. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett dropped down as well, from second place to sixth. Several West Coast firms appear among the top 25, including Gibson Dunn & Crutcher at number 11 and Latham & Watkins at number 15. The only European firm to make the list is Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, ranking 20th, with about $15 billion in deals. Neff of Wachtell said that for the remainder of the year, he expected deal activity to remain at the lower level, as compared with the last several years, although, he added, “there will be opportunistic activity by companies which are sophisticated and in some instances contrarian.” Related Chart: Top M&A Law Firms in First Half of 2001

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