The firm has leaped over Linklaters to move from eleventh to seventh position.
Freshfields head of corporate Barry O'Brien said: “Once you're in a leading position, it depends on the luck of the draw. We had problems with conflicts last year that held us back, but this year we've had less trouble.”
Linklaters remains in ninth place and Clifford Chance has moved from seventeenth to thirteenth. Allen & Overy has edged into the top 20, but while Slaughter and May and Herbert Smith are both still in the mix, they have lost ground.
The pre-eminence of US firms remains, with Shearman & Sterling the biggest mover of US firms strong in Europe.
The overall figures, though, show that the global value of M&A deals has dropped by nearly 50 per cent from 2000 and far fewer really big deals were announced as the global economy slowed.