Bingham, Mayer Top Law Firm Rankings

Mayer Brown squeaked by Bingham McCutchen as the securitization industry’s most active issuer counsel last year, though Bingham retained its title as top underwriter counsel.

Among law firms seeking underwriting assignments, Bingham handled 45 new asset- and mortgage-backed bond offerings in 2011, well ahead of number-two Sidley Austin’s tally of 39 transactions, according to Asset-Backed Alert’s ABS Database. Mayer finished third with 35 deals.

Mayer also served as issuer counsel on 35 structured-product transactions — just one more than Bingham’s count of 34 deals. But that was enough to deprive Bingham of its 2010 bragging rights as both top underwriter and issuer counsel. Orrick Herrington finished third in issuer assignments in 2011, with 19 deals.

Bingham leapt to the top of the law-firm league tables in 2010 thanks to its 2009 purchase of former market leader McKee Nelson. Last year, the firm experienced a sharp drop both in the number of deals it handled and the dollar volume of those transactions — in part because of stronger competition from the likes of Mayer and Sidley, but mostly because of an overall drop in the volume of structured products last year.

In 2010, Bingham’s underwriter-counsel assignments encompassed deals with a combined face value of $38.2 billion, versus just $28.4 billion last year. Industry-wide, the number of deals fell to 307 in 2011 from 380 the year before, as the total dollar volume sank to $178.7 billion from $203.4 billion.

On the issuer-counsel side, however, Mayer saw the dollar value of its deals grow to $24.6 billion from $18.1 billion.

In addition to the decline in available business, law firms continue to grapple with changes in the way they bill their structured-finance clients. Specifically, they are moving away from hourly billing to negotiated pricing on a deal-by-deal basis.

“The benchmark used to be billing by hours, but the new trend is moving more toward negotiated pricing, especially with the new regulations and compliance issues,” one market player said.

Asset-Backed Alert’s tally of law-firm volume takes into account all SEC-registered, Rule 144A and privately placed term securitizations sold primarily in the U.S. It excludes collateralized debt obligations. Because the rankings seek only to capture advisory assignments that law firms win on new deals, they leave out restructurings, fund-formation work and other contracts that have come to represent a larger proportion of the firms’ businesses in recent years.

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