Sidley Austin Led the Way in Shareholder Activism in 2022

In 2022, Sidley Austin LLP assisted companies with 48 activist campaigns, which was up from 37 in 2021 and made it the firm that handled the most shareholder activism matters last year. At the end of the year, the total value of shares owned by activist investors involved in campaigns handled by Sidley sat at $11 billion — more than double the $5.2 billion it handled in 2021.

“We’re on the brink of a record year for shareholder activism. It’s been off the charts,” said Kai Liekefett, a partner at Sidley. Liekefett co-chairs the firm’s shareholder activism and corporate defense practice.

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There were 631 total new activist campaigns in 2022, which was a 7.3% increase from 2021 (588 campaigns) according to Bloomberg data. However, the total stakes dropped by 15.9%, from $81.4 billion in 2021 to $68.4 billion in 2022.

According to Liekefett, there was a slew of reasons for the increased activity. For instance, during the pandemic activists accumulated a lot of capital, and the drop in share prices in 2022 made it easier for them to secure significant stakes in target companies.

Among Sidley’s 2022 engagements, the firm assisted The New York Times against ValueAct, an activist investor that wanted to push the newspaper’s subscriber-only bundles. Sidley also defended Hasbro against Alta Fox Capital Management LLC, a hedge fund campaigning for the toy and entertainment giant to spin off Wizards of the Coast, its playing card and digital gaming business.

Vinson & Elkins led the pack in shareholder activism in 2021 with 38 engagements, but while it notched the same number in 2022, it was only good enough for second place. V&E worked for Republic First Bancorp Inc. and cloud computing company Blackbaud Inc. last year, among others.

“There’s been no quote-unquote off-season for us,” said Lawrence Elbaum, co-head of V&E’s shareholder activism practice. “We’ve been working at a steady clip nonstop.”

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz tallied 29 engagements in 2022, which put it in third place. However, Wachtell had the highest total value of shareholder stakes of any firm: $14.7 billion.

In fourth place in 2022 was Latham & Watkins with 23 engagements. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Goodwin Procter each totaled 15.