Latham grabs most M&A work in California

By Andrew McIntyre
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Latham & Watkins LLP may not have grabbed the work for the largest Golden State mergers and acquisition deal of 2013, but the firm topped the league tables for legal advisers to acquisitions of California companies last year, according to a data tracker.

Latham’s list of corporate M&A clients involved companies such as Thousand Oaks-based Amgen Inc. and South San Francisco-based BRE Properties Inc.; financial advisers JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. Ltd.; and investors including L.A.-based private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners LP.

According to a report by M&A data tracker Mergermarket issued Tuesday, Latham last year handled $86 billion worth of transactions over 105 deals, 8 percent more deals than a year earlier and a whopping 103 percent increase in deal volume from 2012.

Companies look to Latham “because of the breadth and expertise of the practice,” said Jason Liljestrom, general counsel at Newport Beach-based William Lyon Homes, a client of the firm’s. “Their corporate practice in Orange County is very strong. … They’re almost like Wall Street lawyers practicing in Orange County,” said Liljestrom, who was an attorney at Latham before moving in-house to William Lyon last year.

Among the firm’s blockbuster deals last year were representing Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.’s financial adviser JPMorgan in Thermo’s $15 billion acquisition of Carlsbad-based Life Technologies Corp. and counseling Amgen in its $9 billion acquisition of Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc., the second and third largest California acquisition, respectively, announced last year.

“The combination of talent plus their reputation has allowed them to get more and more deals. They’re not a law firm that waits for the phone to ring. They have a lot of outstanding lawyers that are effective marketeers and business developers,” said Sandy Lechtick, president of Los Angeles-based legal search firm Esquire Inc. “Some of their success in the last 10 or 15 years has allowed them to get more into the big leagues, and be seen more as a global powerhouse, not just a top California firm. They work very, very hard, and I think that is not unrecognized by GCs.

Last year’s largest California deal, American International Group Inc.’s sale of L.A.-based International Lease Finance Corp. to AerCap Holdings NV for more than $26 billion, involved various firms, including Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and NautaDutilh.

Cravath, which was ranked no. 91 a year ago, handled $62.7 billion in deals last year, the second most among firms; Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz rounded out the top five firms by M&A volume.Among the top law firms last year by M&A volume, only Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP & Affiliates and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP did less volume than a year earlier: Skadden’s $22.4 billion was 63 percent less than a year earlier, and Weil’s $22.4 billion was off 10 percent from what the firm did in 2012.

Among Latham’s work on other large deals last year was representing BRE Properties in its $6.2 billion sale to Essex Property Trust Inc.; Leonard Green, part of an investor group led by Activision Blizzard Inc. executives that participated in an $8.2 billion purchase of the majority of Vivendi SA’s stake in Activision; and representing Mitsubishi UFJ as financial adviser to Tokyo Electron Ltd. regarding the company’s $8.7 billion sale to Santa Clara- based Applied Materials Inc., the fourth largest California M&A deal last year.

“Our M&A lawyers are highly focused on the business objectives of our clients, across industry sectors and in all the markets we serve,” Tad J. Freese, a Latham Menlo Park partner and a global co-chair of the firm’s corporate department, wrote in an email. “We pride ourselves on being strong advocates for our client’s positions, and we believe the market views our M&A attorneys as the kind of lawyers who get deals done.

While involved in eight of the 10 largest California M&A deals last year, according to Mergermarket, Latham has also worked to further tap into Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach technology ecosystem. Last summer, Latham hired lateral partner Daniel C. Burnham to head its emerging companies practice in Los Angeles, and the firm worked on five of the 10 largest California IPOs last year, including William Lyon Homes’ $218 million offering.

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