Magic Circle firms have managed their strongest year in continental Europe since 2012, according to an analysis of the latest deal rankings by Law.com London affiliate Legal Week.
Across Europe’s major regions—Italy, Germany, Spain, France, The Netherlands, Ireland and Belgium—the U.K.-based firms took a higher proportion of top five spots than both U.S. firms and local rivals, according to Mergermarket’s 2018 tables.
In regions such as Germany, Italy and Spain, it was Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy that consistently featured in the top five, while Clifford Chance fared well in France and Linklaters performed strongly in Belgium and Ireland.
It all meant the Magic Circle firms took 14 of the 35 slots for the seven regions, while domestic firms took 11 places and U.S. firms took 10.
The previous year, in 2017, Magic Circle firms had taken only nine places, slightly behind domestic and U.S. firms, which each took 11.
The rankings mark a gradual slide for U.S. firms across the continent. In 2015, they secured 16 of the 35 top five spots.
The figures reflect a similar story to U.K. M&A, where Magic Circle firms also performed strongly in 2018 after a disappointing year for U.S. firms.
“We have a very strong continental European DNA unlike the U.S. firms, partly because we’ve been around for much longer,” said Christoph Seibt, co-head of global listed companies and public M&A at Freshfields. “We are also more cross-border oriented: most of our deals are not restricted to localized regions, but instead work cross-border with our cross-border teams.”
After not featuring in the top five in 2016 or 2017, Magic Circle firms took three top spots in 2018.
Freshfields came in first, dramatically jumping up the ranks after being placed at No. 16 in 2017. Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance also made big jumps: Allen & Overy going from 29th place in 2017 to third place in 2018, and CC going from 23rd place in 2017 to fourth place in 2018.
Domestic firms, such as Legance Avvocati Associati and Gianni, Origoni, Grippo Cappelli & Partners, have traditionally held many of the top spots in the market, taking almost all the positions in 2016.
But lead roles on the biggest deal of 2018—CK Hutchison’s £7.2 billion ($9.3 billion) acquisition of Wind—were taken by Allen & Overy and Freshfields.
Traditionally a strong market for Magic Circle firms, Freshfields, Allen & Overy and Linklaters all secured top five positions in Germany.
Freshfields’ Seibt pointed to the firm’s 175-year history of working in Germany and said the firm’s strategy was to integrate its continental European offices in a bid to get cross-border M&A work.
The biggest deal of 2018 in the region was advised on by Linklaters, Freshfields and Hengeler Mueller when E.ON acquired a controlling stake in renewable energy business Innogy from German rival RWE for £38 billion ($49 billion).
Magic Circle firms took three of the five slots in Spain. The performance of U.K.-based firms in the country has remained steady for several years. But U.S. firms remain unable to grab a space in the top five, having failed to do so since 2009.
Linklaters, Freshfields and Allen & Overy were three of the 10 firms advising on Spain’s biggest deal of 2018—the £14.4 billion ($18.6 billion) takeover of Spanish motorway operator Abertis by a consortium of European companies.
U.S. firms have made a concerted hiring push from U.K. firms in the country, with Kirkland & Ellis hiring two Linklaters partners for a Paris launch last year and Freshfields’ Paris head leaving for Jones Day last April.
Domestic firms struggled to gain market share though, with last year’s leader, Bredin Prat, the only one in the top places.