PropertyEU 2021 Law Firm Ranking revealed

For the fourth year in a row, PropertyEU is pleased to publish its annual law firm ranking showing which legal advisors worked on the largest real estate transactions. Readers can view the league table attached to this article, with the link provided at the end. 

We track those that advised on the 25 largest real estate transactions of the year.

This time we discovered a total of 42 law firms advised on the largest deals on behalf of buyers and sellers. The mix includes international law firms with cross-border capability who tend to show up every year as well as local firms strong within their own country. We then compiled a top table showcasing the law firms who advised on more than one each. 

The noticeable trend this year has been the volume of m&a work. This has played into the hands of prominent US law firms most notably Kirkland & Ellis. The Chicago-headquartered firm ranks number one in the PropertyEU Law Firm Ranking having advised on a total of 8 transactions, including the second largest real estate deal in 2021 – the €13.3 bn takeover of data centre owner operator CyrusOne Inc by KKR and Global Infrastructure Partners.

Kirkland & Ellis also worked on Starwood Capital’s takeover of CA Immo, Brookfield’s takeover of Alstria, EQT’s acquisition of Exeter Property Group, Gazit Globe’s full takeover of Atrium Real, and Blackstone’s acquisition of St Modwen, and the takeover of GCP Student Living plus GIC’s €3.5bn data centre JV with Equinox. It also acted on the takeover by Starwood Capital of RDI Reit, which just falls outside the top 25 deals. For the record, Kirkland & Ellis also advised on the financing aspect of Blackstone’s takeover of Bourne Leisure, though the ranking does not capture advisory work on financing.

M&A TAKES CENTRE STAGE
Dentons, which also worked on KKR’s acquisition of CyrusOne Inc, as well as on GIC’s Equinix data centre JV, said data suggests 2021 has been the biggest year for global private equity since records began in 1980.

Evan Lazar, co-chairman of Global Real Estate Group at Dentons, explained: ‘Deal making fell off a cliff in the second quarter of 2020, as buyers, including private equity firms, pressed the pause button, uncertain of what the covid-19 pandemic might bring. But private equity activity skyrocketed this year with multiple mega deals already completed and more yet to come.’

He added, ‘The sectors now favoured seem to be technology (data centres), residential, healthcare and retail – which all seem to offer good post-pandemic opportunities. To give just one example, we recently assisted KKR and Global Infrastructure Partners in the acquisition of data centre owner CyrusOne, which was the largest m&a deal in the history of the data centre sector.’

‘Of course, cheap debt and record levels of dry powder is resulting in high competition for take-private acquisitions as everybody is after the same opportunities.’

So many of the year’s largest deals involved m&a work. Clifford Chance’s real estate professionals worked alongside the firm’s m&a practice in the €11.6 bn takeover of supermarket group Wm Morrison by PE firm, Clayton Dubilier & Rice. Clifford Chance also advised Société Générale Assurances as a shareholder in Primonial, which was taken over by Altarea. In addition, it acted the takeover of digital infrastructure firm ATC Europe by Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec from American Tower Corporation Reit, and Allianz’s forward purchase of the T1 Tower in Frankfurt, plus the €1 bn purchase in Germany by Tristan Capital’s opportunistic fund series of the non-listed portfolio controlled by Summit Real Estate and 77% of the listed Gxp German Properties AG.

Clifford Chance said it was advising on further deals that would make the 25 threshold, but which had not completed yet.

Francois Bonteil, global head of real estate at Clifford Chance, said the ‘strong pick up’ of global real estate activity since the start of 2021 showed how resilient the sector was despite macroeconomic uncertainties.

He explained, ‘Indeed, this has been a year during which our clients have completed complex and marquee deals including a number of market first transactions. Reflecting the market, we've advised on a diverse range of deals, from the restructuring of distressed portfolios to the acquisition of premium assets, with lots of private equity related transactions and complex developments.’

The law firm added it was starting to see telecom towers – similar to data centres – being considered by investors as real estate rather than just infrastructure.
Bonteil added, ‘We have supported our clients across the breadth of asset classes, not only resi, logistics, healthcare and other alternate assets but also offices and retail.’

TOP TIER 
This year, PropertyEU recorded 42 firms which advised on at least one top 25 real estate transactions.

As previously stated, Kirkland & Ellis takes top spot by some distance on 8, followed by Clifford Chance (5), then Allen & Overy (4), Dentons (3), and Goodwin Procter (2). Greenberg Traurig (2), Freshfields (2), DLA Piper (2), Slaughter & May (2), and White & Case (2) also make it onto the elite list.

NEAR MISS
It should be noted that Germany’s Noerr missed out on a place on the top table as one deal fell just outside the top 25.

Also, CMS narrowly missed out. It was involved in two transactions just outside the threshold including Henderson Park’s €658 mln purchase of hotels in the UK – the only hospitality deal of such significant size in 2021.