Hailing from the sunny shores of California, Cooley offers its London trainees an oh-so-cool infusion of technology, life sciences and insurance work.
Playing it Cooley
West-Coaster Cooley broke into the London market in 2015. It swept up most of the London-based lawyers from ailing US firm Edwards Wildman Palmer, and with them established its second overseas offering after Shanghai. Cooley's Silicon Valley roots are definitely felt in Blighty: “Our firm is super IP and tech-focused. But in London we're also pushing for growth in corporate and commercial litigation. It's a really exciting time to be at the firm.” Indeed, Cooley's London revenue has exceeded expectations and risen to £47 million, with the success pinned on key M&A deals in the tech and life sciences sectors. The office's transactional life sciences work gets a nod in Chambers UK, as does its IP, public international law, litigation and contentious insurance expertise.
So is it all systems go since the takeover? Not entirely. Echoing integration comments made last year, sources reiterated: “The litigation department, which is on the 11th floor, is largely made up of EWP legacy people. There's a different working style on the ninth and tenth floors, where the new corporate people are based.” (Lawyers from Morrison & Foerster and Mayer Brown have been added of late.) However, trainees were keen to stress that “this sort of thing takes time. I think the floors are going to be mixed soon and there have been more socials to get us to integrate.” On both sides of the Atlantic, the firm carries a certain Cali-cool vibe (at least when you compare it to other high-end law firms) and appears to dodge the cut-throat culture that can accompany American firms. Our sources highlighted this in their reasons to recommend the firm, and also the deal-clincher that is free food: “If you go to lunch with three people you don't work with Cooley pays for it.” Cushty.
New starters can express a preference before they join as to which seat they'd like to do first, and after that trainees have an informal mid-seat chat with HR to discuss where they'd like to go next. “It's a bit of balancing act for HR as there's only a small pool of us,” summarised one source, “but everyone's happy most of the time and if someone's been really keen to do a seat I've never known them not get it.”
General commercial and insurance disputes are the two main strands of work in the litigation department. “You technically focus on one or the other, but there can be a bit of a crossover.” The commercial side of the department handles everything from contract disputes and shareholder spats to data protection issues, asset recovery and anti-corruption cases. Recent highlights include acting for Bambino Holdings – a company that acts for the family trusts of the ex-wife F1 chief exec Bernie Ecclestone – during a $240 million share dispute with German media company Constantin Medien. Other cases include representing the Turks & Caicos Islands Government on various claims to recover land and money from corrupt parties, and advising Tata Steel as it took a £15 million contract dispute with Associated British Ports to the courts.
"There was a £6 million black hole.”
Commercial lit sources told us that they'd been working on things like “a territory dispute between two sovereign countries: I had to call up the International Court of Justice (with my very poor French!) and ask them how to serve our applications to the court. I compiled an 180-page report from 15 files and did loads of research.” Others had been involved in “an international asset recovery matter where I drafted witness statements and ancillary documents, on top of the usual things like bundling.” Regardless of who we spoke to, trainees felt that “the responsibility they give you is fantastic, if not a little frightening at times!” Some IP disputes also crop up here.
On the insurance front, clients include major insurers like Hiscox, AXA and Lloyd's Market Association. Lawyers here recently helped the Mediterranean Insurance & Reinsurance Company to obtain a worldwide freezing order against one of its former directors. Trainees here had “worked on other freezing orders and done the initial review of the documents we'd been given. On one there was a £6 million black hole and no one knew where the money had gone. One of the company directors had paid loads of cheques to his family, which gave us a sense of something odd...” Others said that insurance is “a lot more cerebral; you feel like you're actually making your degree work for it!” One had been putting their grey matter to the test on “a surgical device malfunction where we knew the prosthesis had failed, but there were multiple factors and we didn't know which specific one had caused the loss in question. So I had to research what you do when you don't know the exact causation. There was no precedent, so I had to look into tort law!”
Over in corporate there's a range of M&A, corporate finance, private equity and venture capital deals to get stuck into. Clients are mostly drawn from the TMT, financial services, life sciences and energy sectors, and on the current roster you'll find Apollo Global Management, Kalvista Pharmaceuticals, IRIS Software and Igas Energy. For keep-fit haven Gymbox trainees had “drafted most of the ancillary documents for a £39 million investment from BGF and HSBC.” Others had helped out on Leisure Pass Group's sale to Exponent Private Equity. “It was great. Leisure Pass is the group that runs the Big Red Bus tours and give you free entry to tourist attractions in London. So whenever I see those red buses I think 'I worked on that!'” Those who'd like to focus on the tech side more can head to the technology transactions group, where “we help corporate with due diligence and disclosure, but also draft terms and conditions, privacy policies and agency agreements.”
“They get heckled – it's a rite of passage and everyone loves it.”
A stint in the designated life sciences team, meanwhile, provided ample opportunity to “draft a lot of commercial agreements – from clinical trial contracts to licences to pharmaceutical collaborations – alongside delving into some interesting regulatory research.” A recent matter saw the team advise Cambridge-based biotech company F-star on its $6 million collaboration agreement with US outfit Denali to develop antibodies capable of delivering medicines across the blood-brain barrier and into the central nervous system.
Ging Gang Cooley
We asked our insiders what it was like being at the Brit arm of a swanky Yankee firm: “The cultural exchange is great, people come over from the US all the time and it's so exciting to meet them all.” Others informed us that “we're seen as a bridge into Europe; we're never treated like a satellite office and we're constantly connected through firm-wide webinars and things like that. We're a tech firm so there are lots of ways to connect.” And despite “still feeling the friendliness and attitude of a London firm, there are certain Americanisms in the form of being very business orientated and hands-on with clients." This is one common theme of American firms; another is their deeper commitment to pro bono and diversity. In fact this year our US student guide Chambers Associate placed Cooley in third place in the US for its efforts to create a diverse, inclusive firm – a culture we're seeing exported across the Atlantic: "Certain initiatives have come over from the US, like the 'connection circles,' which allow female trainees to join support groups and connect with more senior women mentors.” The hours weren't deemed particularly 'American' in their intensity: most trainees were clocking in at 8.30am and out the door by 7.30pm. Transactional seats can produce “busy periods where you're here constantly till 11pm, but you go in with your eyes open and you're never the only one in the office, so you don't get lonely!”
When they're not working, the Cooley cohort like to chillax. Among the social highlights were 'Cooley Cocktails,' which are held “once a month in the canteen, where they dim the lights – it's fun!” This year's summer bash was held at Swingers (a crazy golf venue in the City) whereas last year's consisted of a boat cruise on the Thames. However, the pièce de résistance is the “legendary quiz. It's the big thing on everyone's calendar. The new trainees organise and host it and they get heckled – it's a rite of passage and everyone loves it.” Plus there's also a cake trolley that comes around the office on Thursdays. “I only stopped for my very first slice of cake yesterday – I've just been so busy!”
All six qualifiers were offered NQ posts in 2017, and all six accepted.
You may also be interested in...
These US firms with small London trainee intakes:
How to get a Cooley training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 January 2018 (via vac scheme)
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 31 January 2018
Applications and assessments
Cooley recruits through its summer programme and usually receives around 500 applications for this. Trainee recruitment and legal talent manager Sarah Warnes tell us: “We focus our efforts on recruiting through the summer programme, so we tend not to have any further training places come the end of summer.” So if you want in: get on the vac scheme.
Applications begin with an online form. “It's very obvious who has and hasn't done any research at this point,” says Sarah Warnes, telling us that “anything generic always ends up in the 'no' pile. You should research things like the trainee role, how the firm organises itself, who our key clients are, what our key strengths are and where our future plans might me.” Warnes goes on to reveal that “we get a lot of applicants who have interesting experiences to draw upon but don't write about them very well. Ultimately this doesn't put them in a strong position. We want to see in someone's writing that they have a genuine energy and motivation and are engaged.”
The firm shortlists the most impressive applicants for an online critical thinking appraisal, designed to assess candidates’ critical thinking skills. Those who perform best are then invited to attend a half-day assessment which typically takes place in February or March. Assessment is focussed on a business case study. The case study is designed to assess a candidate's teamwork, communication and critical reasoning/analytical skills, as well as commercial awareness. Candidates work in groups of six to eight.
Around 12 candidates are then picked for a series of 30-minute one-to-one interviews with a mixture of partners and senior associates, involving competency and scenario-based questions, in addition to looking at your application, expect to be asked about your academic and life experiences to date and how these have prepared you for a career in a law firm. From here the firm awards places on the programme.
The summer programme
Summer programme lasts two weeks, and candidates split their time between two departments, working alongside trainees and attending partner-led skills sessions and talks. “There are structured activities like group-based tasks, and vac schemers might also help out on live matters,” says Warnes. “In the past, they've sat in on conference calls and helped trainees produce witness statements.” There are also various socials: previous activities include games nights, comedy evenings and bowling.
A word of warning: the American term for 'vacation scheme' is 'summer programme' with vac schemers referred to as 'summers'. We've come across the firm using this phrase, so if you do too then know it means the same as vac schemers.
Those hoping to join the ranks of Cooley need at least a 2:1 degree and 320 UCAS points at A level (not including points from general studies).
Warnes tells us that during the initial screening process, recruiters are on the lookout for people with relevant work experience, as “it can show commitment, common sense and being grounded plus a willingness to get involved.” Note, this doesn't have to be law-related. “Naturally, we're not talking about going all the way back to 13-year-olds with paper rounds, but candidates should definitely include things like shop or bar work in their applications. It's rare to see an application from someone with no work experience at all, and it would certainly raise some questions from us.”
She goes on to tell us that future trainees must have a positive attitude, “even when some of the tasks may not be the most interesting.” Being adaptable is also important. “Our firm tends to use fairly lean teams, so trainees can expect to be the only one at their level on most matters, and to work closely with senior partners. As a result, the kind of person who does well is someone who tends to gravitate towards responsibility and who is always eager to get stuck in.”
Our trainee sources added: “The firm doesn't tend to recruit the stern, silent type! Instead, it favours people who are confident in their own abilities, but not arrogant, and with a capacity to express themselves. Putting your opinion forward is always encouraged here.”
Who is Cooley?
An unusual proposition
Over 100 US law firms have an office in London, and most opened an office here in one of two ways: either by starting an office from scratch – sending over one or two partners from the States, hiring laterally from UK firms and building things up from the ground – or taking over an already established English firm.
Cooley took a different route: after announcing its intention to open in London in late 2014, it swooped in and took over the entire London office of struggling fellow US firm Edwards Wildman Palmer. (The other EWP lawyers around the world bunked up with US firm Locke Lord.) From one day to the next (well, over a weekend) nameplates were unscrewed and the branding replaced; the lawyers and staff working in the Dashwood building near Liverpool Street Station went from working for Boston-headquartered Edwards Wildman to California's Cooley.
All of which raised the question: who or what is this firm Cooley?
Cooley in America
Before settling on its streamlined, single moniker, Cooley spent several years switching between a string of awkward and cumbersome names: at one point going by the mouthful that was Cooley, Crowley, Gaither, Godward, Castro & Huddleson. Now the extras have been ditched, Cooley is undoubtedly in with the cool crowd. The firm's love of all things tech has stood fast during all its different guises – Cooley helped form the first West Coast venture capital partnership in the US back in 1958 – and the firm has since made a name for itself in California's Silicon Valley as the go-to firm for tech clients, start-ups and venture capitalists.
Nowadays Cooley's investment funds practice is top ranked by Chambers USA. Clients here are often behind some of the world's most recognisable brands, like Institutional Venture Partners – who invested in the likes of Twitter and Netflix – and Founders Fund, the financiers behind Airbnb and Spotify. There's more to the firm than just helping the backers behind the scenes though, as the brands themselves also come a-calling. Cooley's California IP practice, for example, has advised Google, LinkedIn, Nintendo and Snapchat on all things patent related. The firm also recently acted for Facebook after holding company Rembrandt Social Media alleged that the social media's 'like' button infringed on patents granted to a Dutch computer programmer.
Likewise, Cooley has a pretty formidable reputation when it comes to life sciences, advising pharmaceutical and medical tech companies, and a number of investors in the life sciences industry on areas such as M&A transactions and IPOs. Recent hits include advising California-based biopharma company Auspex during its $3.5 billion acquisition by Israeli-headquartered Teva Pharmaceutical.
The firm's reach spreads further than its home state of California. Ten offices make up its US network; five are dotted along the West Coast while a cluster of four reside on the Eastern seaboard, and the tenth is in Colorado. In 2011 the firm made its first foray overseas, with the launch of an office in Shanghai handling venture capital funds and investments, capital markets and corporate matters.
Cooley in London
After Cooley opened its London office in January 2015, CEO Joe Conroy told Chambers Associate that "our goal is to be an elite global law firm that focuses on technology, life sciences, venture capital, emerging companies, IP and all the other things we are known for." London, he says, is a key early piece of the jigsaw. "It will service the needs of our UK clients and is a great gateway location for transactions in Asia and other European countries.” The firm quickly put its stamp on the London market by luring over two life sciences partners from Reed Smith in 2015; this was swiftly followed by the launch of a patent practice with a team of three lawyers from Mintz Levin. These additions were mirrored Stateside, and Cooley's US life sciences patent practice is now the country's largest.
69 Old Broad Street,
- Partners 27
- Assistant solicitors 38
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 11
- Graduate recruiter: Sarah Warnes, [email protected]
- Training partner: Helen Clark, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 450 approx
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB (not including General Studies)
- Vacation scheme places pa: up to 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 30 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 January 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 30 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Open day deadline: See website for details of events
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £44,000
- Second-year salary: £48,000
- Post-qualification salary: £100,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000 in London, £7,500 outside
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017