Cooley offers its small trainee intake a fascinating array of work ranging from international corruption cases to corporate tech deals.
2015 was a confusing time for the London trainees of a US firm called Edwards Wildman Palmer. “On our first day at the firm we were told that we were going to be merging with Cooley,” recalled one. This is because 2015 was the year that California firm Cooley made its long-awaited entry into the London market by acquiring most of the London office of troubled US firm Edwards Wildman Palmer. Morale at this firm wasn't high at the time, and one source told us that “pre-merger, it got a little sad towards the end.” But the only way was up. Cooley began feeding its new UK outpost with work from American clients, and it began fielding questions from British and European businesses bamboozled by the US's formidable regulatory system. “Cooley has a fantastic network of offices and a ton of experience in the technology and life sciences industries,” one source told us, “and now we're positioning ourselves as a bridge between the US and Europe.”
In any takeover, there will be wrinkles that need to be ironed out. “The 11th floor – which is full of legacy EWP people – and the 10th, which has mostly new hires, aren't quite integrated yet,” one trainee admitted. Overall though, the sense we got was one of rising optimism. “The firm's been on an upswing for the past year and a half, and we're all riding that,” one source told us. Under EWP, the London office was known for its insurance, commercial, corporate and IP work, but new corporate hires and a burgeoning technological focus have supplemented this and in 2015 the firm gained shiny new Chambers UK rankings for life sciences and outsourcing. Cooley may be a new player in London, but over in the States the firm is well established: it has ten offices and is big on giving legal advice to start-ups in its home base of Silicon Valley. London joins Shanghai as its second overseas office.
"Exciting clients and big international cases...”
A US firm swooping in to take over an entire office which was previously part of a completely different US firm network is rather a new proposition. Trainees described the ensuing process of change and integration as “a little bit of an unknown quantity,” telling us “it's still sort of being figured out.” And the office has slipped a little in the Chambers UK rankings in the past few years so there's some rebuilding work to do there too. Trainees are at the forefront of this, with new seats in technology transactions and corporate on offer since the Cooley takeover.
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 members of the 'legal talent' team to discuss where they'd like to go next. We heard from some trainees that you normally do litigation seats in your first year and corporate/business ones in your second, though others said this is not a hard and fast rule. Interviewees agreed that “the message from the firm is very much that you should get as broad a range of experience as you can.” At the time of our calls the firm had an annual trainee intake of six, but sources tell us this is set to decrease to around four a year in future. In 2016 five out of six qualifiers stayed on.
Cooley's litigation offering used to be split into commercial litigation and insurance litigation, but the two departments were recently merged. Eventually, our sources tell us, “the plan is for trainees to work across both former departments,” but for the time being, trainees “focus predominantly on one or the other.” That said, our sources were eager to stress that “everybody does some work across the full department.” The commercial side of the department handles everything from contract disputes and shareholder spats to data protection issues, asset recovery and anti-corruption cases. Lawyers are often active on the latter two types of matters for governments and business clients abroad and trainees cooed that the work involves "exciting clients and big international cases.” For example, the department is currently assisting the Nigerian government in its efforts to recover some of the millions allegedly misappropriated by the country's late dictator, Sani Abacha. There are lots of other fascinating cases too, but unfortunately they're all confidential.
"... makes us very attractive to millennials."
On the insurance front, clients include major insurers like Munich Re, Swiss Re and Centre Re. Again, most cases are confidential, but we can tell you that matters here are often worth tens of millions, although in one case (an asbestos liability dispute involving the above three insurers), the disputed sum came closer to £500 million. “Commercial litigation is more court-focused,” said one trainee who'd done both types of work, “and your job is to make sure everything runs smoothly.” This means bundling, indexing and project managing the case through its stages. By contrast, trainees on insurance matters can expect “more discrete tasks,” like research into technical legal matters, drafting replies to the court and liaising with clients.
The corporate department has been through some ups and down in recent years. At the time of the Cooley takeover, most of EWP's corporate partners jumped ship. Then, Cooley hired a five-partner corporate team from Morrison & Foerster “pretty rapidly.” Appropriately given Cooley's Silicon Valley origins, the rebooted corporate team has a technology focus. “While this no doubt makes us very attractive to millennials, there's no obligation to be a techy person if you work here,” a trainee in the department quipped. Clients are often smaller companies with little experience of the legal and business worlds and who need “someone who can explain complex legal jargon in layman's terms.” Another interviewee added: “You're often asking clients things like: 'Have you paid this tax?'” One thing trainees really liked was that “you're not just filling in blank spaces on forms; there's a lot of scope for free drafting.” The revamped group recently represented oil and gas explorer Igas in the UK's largest fracking deal to date, acted for Immunocore in the largest ever first financing round for a European biotech company, and advised a sustainable forestry company with holdings in Tanzania and Uganda on a $30 million debt facility.
Cooley occupies three floors of Dashwood House, near Liverpool Street Station. The 10th floor hosts the firm's transactional practices – collectively known as 'business' – while litigation is on the 11th floor and the 9th contains meeting rooms. While trainees admitted that “you can't boast all that much about the facilities,” the location is “super-convenient" and sources did like the weekly cake trolley that comes round to deliver sweet treats. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, but in offices with glass walls trainees can see when their colleagues are free, making it easy to know when to “pop your head in for a chat.” Trainees are assigned partner mentors and female trainees can join 'connection circles', which are support groups consisting of around ten women lawyers of varying seniorities.
Does an American brand name on the letterhead come with long US-style working hours? Not particularly, no. Trainees said they arrive between 9am and 9.30am and leave, on a typical day, anywhere between 6.30pm and 8pm. Sometimes trainees do stay later, with a few reporting late nights of working until 11pm or midnight. “While I wasn't doing that all the time, there were definitely times where I worked late several nights in a row,” one interviewee shared.
The social scene at the firm is something that's “improved since we became Cooley,” our sources inform us. There are sports teams and monthly cocktails and staff are encouraged to go to lunch with “someone you've never met before” in order to encourage mingling. After hours, trainees can be found either at the Lord Aberconway – fondly described as “a dump, but our dump,” – or the local fish and chip shop.
Every year trainees have the chance to go on secondment to a major online retailer, but opportunities with other clients do crop up from time to time.
How to get a Cooley training contract
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 January 2017 (via vac scheme)
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 31 January 2016
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 is 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 branding replaced and the lawyers and staff working in the Dashwood building near Liverpool Street Station went from working for Boston-headquarters Edwards Wildman to California's Cooley.
All of which raises the question: who or what is this firm Cooley which now suddenly has a 40-lawyer office in London?
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.
Cooley also has a pretty formidable reputation when it comes to life sciences, advising pharmaceutical and medical technology companies and a number of investors in the life sciences industry on things like M&A transactions and IPOs. Case in point, the team recently advised 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 number ten is in Colorado. 2011 marked the firm's 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 our US sister publication Chambers Associate: "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's already put its stamp on its newest outfit: two Reed Smith life sciences partners joined in March 2015, and in August 2015 London launched a patent practice after scooping up three patent 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 28
- Assistant solicitors 37
- Total trainees 9
- Sarah Warnes, trainee recruitment and legal talent manager, (020) 7556 4414
- Emily Granger, HR/legal talent assistant, (020) 7 556 4373
- Method of application Online selection procedure: online critical appraisal exercise, assessment centre and interview
- Closing date for August 2019 31 January 2017
- No. of training contracts pa 4
- Applications pa 400
- % interviewed pa 6%
- Required degree grade 2.1 or above
- Training salary
- First year: £44,000
- Second year: £48,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary £90,000
- % trainees offered job on qualification 83%
- Overseas/regional offices London, Shanghai and ten offices across the US
Main areas of work
Sponsorship and awards