This techy California outfit is aiming to make a name for itself in London.
Full stream ahead
It’s been four years since Cooley planted a flag a London, and given that setting up for yourself alone in a completely new place can be fraught with difficulty and hardship, this Cali powerhouse took the opportune step of sweeping in to take over the London office of collapsing fellow American Edwards Wildman Palmer in 2015. Things have been looking up ever since, in part thanks to numerous lateral hires. The office posted a revenue increase of 16% in 2018, building on 22% growth the year before and against a backdrop of a firm with global revenues exceeding $1.2 billion. With aims to replicate its success in London, the firm marked the advent of 2019 by opening a second European base in Brussels.
“We’re disruptive, shaking up the market.”
This trajectory was very much part of the appeal for trainees. “Working for a firm that is rapidly expanding is exciting,” one said. “We’re disruptive, shaking up the market, and trying to steal quality work from the big traditional players.” Trainees felt the firm’s American passport gave it a competitive advantage over English rivals. “US firms have a reputation for being more flexible to client demands,” an interviewee said. “If you have a problem, you can guarantee it will be resolved quickly by a firm like Cooley.” All of this means that “as the firm has grown and become more prominent, so have the demands placed on trainees in terms of hours” – more on that below.
Cooley's upstart market position in London can be seen from the fact that its Chambers UK rankings are not in the same stellar reaches as those it achieves in Chambers USA, especially in California. In London, the firm is ranked for lower mid-market M&A and public international law, as well as insurance and life sciences. But trainees were keen to stress “the breadth of the firm’s client base,” noting that “we work with some of the biggest players in the market, but also lots of smaller startups and emerging companies.” It’s a model imported from the US where the firm can boast of having its services enlisted by 40% of companies in The Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club. London's establishment corporate clients include AXA, Universal Music, Tata Steel and Estée Lauder, but sources felt it was the firm’s interaction with start-ups that had the biggest effect on its culture: “It’s a ripple effect – start-ups tend to be more up to date on tech developments and progressive ideals, and they expect that of us too, so it keeps us very modern!”
All trainees complete four six-month seats, typically two transactional and two litigious ones. “In terms of the seat allocation process... that’s as much a mystery to me now as it was two years ago when I joined,” one source admitted. Another agreed: “You find out where you're going very late, and it’s never clear what options are available approaching each rotation.” However, sources acknowledged the difficulties presented by rapid growth. “A product liability team came in two years ago which suddenly created the need for a products trainee – you could never have predicted that, so I understand the need to place trainees in response to business needs.” In addition, trainees are also “often split across multiple groups, so you can sample more areas.”
For example, a seat in commercial litigation exposes newbies to everything from product liability and international arbitration to white-collar crime and asset recovery work; insurance litigation is its own seat. “It’s hard to find one case that's representative of my time there,” a trainee mused. “Unlike corporate, which deals with a lot of start-ups, the clients here tend to be big global entities, which means there are a lot of witnesses and parties you are in contact with all over the world.” Those big clients include Sony, Nike, Tata Steel and Notre Dame University. Standard trainee tasks include drafting witness statements, consent orders, and for one newbie “conducting a regulatory investigation into a manufacturer.” There are also pro bono opportunities here which trainees can take control of. “On one matter I was responsible for drafting an entire submission for an appeal,” one source tell us. “There was no template to go off – I was just told to give it my best shot!” The firm has also recently been involved in over 70 different claims to recover land and money from parties involved in corrupt practices in the Turks and Caicos Islands, one of the largest asset recovery programmes in the world.
“There was no template to go off – I was just told to give it my best shot!”
Over in corporate there’s M&A, corporate finance, capital markets, private equity and venture capital work on offer. The public companies subgroup recently advised cancer therapy developer Autolus on its $172.5 million IPO. Trainees are kept busy doing all the verification notes ahead of listings. “Essentially you have a 300-page document which you have to review and edit,” one explained. “My task is taking sentence x stating the product has been found to do x, y and z, and proving that it’s true. I have to make sure the company is not telling lies to make the public invest!” On the M&A side, the firm recently represented UK cleaning products manufacturer Zenith on its sale to US private equity giant Bain Capital. “You’re always having to think of what questions need to be asked of the company being purchased,” one trainee said of M&A work. “For example, is there anything missing from its records? That all needs to be drafted into a report.”
Trainees in tech transactions often provide support to the corporate team but also engage in purely commercial work such as outsourcing projects, data privacy, technology licensing and other service agreements. “A lot of the clients are start-ups, but there are standard blue-chip companies on the books too,” sourcesexplained. For example, the firm advised both skill-sharing platform Talent Sky and an American defence industry giant with GDPR compliance. Trainees made a distinction between working with the two different types of clients: “The larger the client the more rigorous they tend to be in terms of what they want from us. In the event of a merger for an established company, we review every single non-disclosure agreement in minute detail, whereas emerging companies don’t normally have the money to spend on that so expect a quicker and more efficient job.”
Printed shirts and French tucks
Being one of only four trainees in an intake means “there's nowhere to hide for newcomers,” sources made clear. “If something goes wrong, you’re going to get called out by name.” However, though clearly a place for those who “relish responsibility,” sources were quick to highlight the importance of the firm’s West Coast credentials: “Coming out of Cali, we're definitely not one of those hyper-competitive firms – we really emphasise teamwork. During the vacation scheme it was clear the firm favoured those focused on promoting teamwork rather than the super-competitive people desperate to stand out.” Another added: “We all did the Watson Glaser Test a few months ago and had a split of extroverts and introverts.”
“My supervisor plays Ariana Grande at midnight.”
Introvert or not, all trainees can expect to work the hours typical of a big City firm. “Nobody is work-shy,” one source stated. There are frequent 12-hour days and we heard a few gruelling stories of trainees “working 12 days straight.” But with a salary of £118,000 waiting for them on qualification, interviewees felt it was well worth the effort, especially in the light of the fact “you're working similar hours to trainees at magic circle firms.” Moreover, sources relished the relaxed feel that develops in the office after sundown. “My supervisor plays Ariana Grande at midnight and the office becomes a series of Queer Eye quotes,” one joked.
Although retention has been good recently – the firm has only let go of two of its 21 qualifiers since 2015 – at the time of our calls trainees were cautious about their retention chances. Some put this down to a “a natural plateauing of business because of Brexit” and others to an oversubscription of the litigation team. In the end three of four qualifiers were retained.
The National Deaf Children’s Society is a pro bono client – Cooley lawyers help young deaf people appeal against the denial of their benefits.
How to get a Cooley training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020
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 be.” 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
Cooley's 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 will also help out on live matters,” says Warnes. “In the past, they've sat in on conference calls, attended hearings and client meetings, and helped trainees produce witness statements and research memos.” There are also various socials: previous activities include games nights, comedy evenings and cocktail making.
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.”
69 Old Broad Street,
- Partners 30
- Assistant solicitors 63
- Total trainees 8
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 14
- Graduate recruiter: Sarah Warnes, [email protected]
- Training partner: Claire Temple, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 500 approx
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 320/128 (excluding General Studies)
- Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 28th October 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 January 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 28 October 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 January 2020
- Open day deadline: See website for details of events
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £118,000
- 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 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Public International Law (Band 3)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 5)
- Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 3)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment Recognised Practitioner
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 4)