Who took the biggest slice of the European coporate pie in 2003? Thomson Financial’s tables show that the winner was Clifford Chance, who leapfrogged Linklaters with 216 deals handled. So who was behind them?

Clifford Chance has come top of the MergerMarket announced European M&A league tables for the first time, knocking Linklaters off the top spot. The firm also came top of Thomson Financials tables for announced M&A with a European target.

Clifford Chance leapfrogged Linklaters in the 2003 MergerMarket tables, handling 216 deals across Europe worth €163bn (£114.27bn). Linklaters also performed well with 202 deals worth €135bn (£94.64bn).

Slaughter and May improved on last years performance, moving up from ninth to seventh place, although the firm was held back by a flat market in the UK, its most important jurisdiction. The US firms also put in a better performance than in 2002, with Sullivan & Cromwell, Weil Gotshal & Manges and Davis Polk & Wardwell all back in the top 10.

One of the main problems, by no means exclusive to Clifford Chance’s ranking, is that deal tables do not distinguish between main corporate, antitrust and bit-part investment bank advisory roles.

In the past, Clifford Chance has benefited from an artificial boost in the rankings from deals where the firm has advised on antitrust but not M&A issues. The biggest European M&A deal this year saw the firm advise General Electric on the antitrust implications of its £5.8bn acquisition of Amersham, but Slaughter and May took the main corporate role.

Clifford Chance’s global head of corporate David Childs conceded that the firm’s league table performance had been boosted by anti-trust advice, particularly in the US, in 2002, but said: “We’ve seen less of that in 2003.” He added: “Doing the antitrust work is a major role.”

Childs attributed the firm’s impressive performance to a maturing European network, with offices such as Paris, Madrid and Frankfurt getting a greater share of the local M&A market. He also said that the firm’s highly-rated private equity practice had been a key advantage in a year where private equity had dominated the deals tables.

Clifford Chance’s main weakness is that it has so few clients among major UK-based corporations. Childs admitted: “What we still would like to have is a deeper UK domestic corporate practice. We’d like more FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 clients.”

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