And The True M&A Leader Is...

WHO'S THE NO.1 LAW FIRM for mergers and acquisitions work? Two heavyweight New York partnerships have been sparring over that honor for months. In this corner: Shearman & Sterling. In the other: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. At stake is the championship for 1994, a brand-new ranking of deals by dollar volume compiled by research outfit Securities Data. It took three tries because, as each new list came out, the No.2 firm scrambled to supply Securities Data with updated info.

The initial list in March--a preliminary one--showed Shearman on top with $76.2 million from 28 deals, and Skadden trailing with $69.7 million from 54 deals. "The firms then became more responsive to our survey requests," recalls Securities Data spokesman Richard Peterson. The second ranking, in May, moved Skadden into the lead ($76.1 million; 90 deals), while Shearman's dollar volume dropped ($70.6 million; 30 deals) owing to what it calls miscounting.

For the final, final try, in July, Securities Data gave them both a prize by creating two rankings. Shearman, which worked on such big international pairings as Sandoz-Gerber, is No.1 for worldwide business ($84.6 million; 46 deals). Skadden is tops for domestic M&A ($79.7 million; 89 deals).

With the cascade of M&A activity lately, such crowns are marketing tools. In discreet lawyerly fashion, though, the firms won't let on that they really care who's No.1.