This tech-savvy firm brings a Cali-cool vibe to the City, and uber-modern clients with it.
Everything’s exciting when it’s new. Part of the fun of the trainee experience is how new everything is, taking your first steps in the big bad legal world. Cooley is pretty new to the UK scene itself, having set up shop in London in 2015, and trainees described it as a “really exciting and dynamic place to work.” They also drew our attention to the “cool” clients – eBay, Universal Music and Sony are among the big names, but perhaps the most exciting opportunities come from work with the start-ups which aim to be the giants of tomorrow. Like Cooley itself, many of these hail from California’s Bay Area.
Chambers UK ranks the firm for mid-market M&A, product liability, insurance, public international law, and transactional life sciences. Interviewees noted that Cooley is “huge in life sciences” and also does a fair bit with media and broadcasting outfits: “Even though we don’t have hundreds of people working in the UK, we're still exposed to the same level of clients as bigger firms. It just feels more personal.” The London office’s revenue is in fact growing faster than that of the firm as a whole, clocking in at a tidy $72.9 million in 2019. Trainees and NQs are reaping the benefits – Cooley’s whopping £120,000 qualification salary is one of the highest in the City today.
“We're still exposed to the same level of clients as bigger firms. It just feels more personal.”
Money isn’t the only reason why trainees flocked to the firm’s doors: several cited the small intake of four new starters a year as a big draw. “We get to know all the partners and associates, rather being a tiny cog in a huge machine,” they explained. This makes for “a really friendly vibe: everyone’s doors are always open, and everyone wants to help you.” Cooley’s recruitment team meets all new arrivals to set the tone of the training contract and learn if they have any seat preferences, “then feed those back to the teams and try and match us up. It’s partly based on trainee preferences and partly on business need.” Although second years’ choices are prioritised, many first years got what they wanted too. Looking for room to improve, the firm is aiming to speed up the process “so it’s less last-minute,” according to trainees.
Trainees typically complete two litigious and two transactional seats. Some do split seats – for example, mixing M&A from the corporate and life sciences groups. Employment and compensation and benefits are “closely linked,” and physically sit next to each other, so they’re another common combination. Cooley also permits trainees to repeat seats: “They understand that you’ll want more experience in the department you want to qualify into. I’m repeating my first seat and I’m more confident; previously I wasn’t really sure what was going on, so I’ve got more responsibility this time.”
Compensation and benefits, or ‘Comp and Ben’ as it’s fondly known, brings together corporate governance, remuneration agreements, employee benefits, equity investment issues and more. Trainees were tasked with ensuring agreements complied with local legislation “so that employers around the world can use them; that was really interesting.” They were pleased to get “really hands-on supervision. By the end of the seat you can draft option agreements yourself.” Cooley’s employment practice balances advisory and contentious work (in the form of unfair dismissal claims), but the see-saw tipped towards advisory during the coronavirus pandemic. Clients here include Universal Music, Eve Sleep and the Airline Traffic Publishing Company, whom the firm has acted for in employment tribunal discrimination cases. Advising on furlough schemes and “drafting updates on legislation,” trainees in employment tackled due diligence, taking witness statements, managing data rooms, disclosure and bundling.
The last of those is inevitable in a litigation seat too, “but there’s usually only one trainee per case so we’re really embedded within the team.” Cooley’s practice attracts “giant companies and little businesses; we work across all kinds of sectors.” Examples include technology, pharmaceuticals and online gaming. The firm recently represented life sciences company Allergy Therapeutics in a High Court clash with a Canadian company over their global clinical trials. Other clients include eBay, StubHub and the University of Notre Dame in England. Document review is a “big part of the seat,” but trainees also respond to disclosure requests, “which is really good experience as a first seater.” Client interaction is common during conferences and witness interviews: “The firm makes a big effort to put us in front of clients and see partners’ different styles when they’re communicating with them. We’re not just behind the scenes.”
“Where the other side has four or five trainees on a transaction, we often have just one.”
Client contact is also high in the technology transactions group (TTG). Start-ups are a linchpin of this practice, but larger companies can be found here too: biotech multinational Bavarian Nordic called on Cooley during its €796 million acquisition of the global rights to two commercial vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline.Trainees in the seat handled commercial contracts and assisted team corporate with “tech or IP-related diligence.” TTG also has a hand in data protection and privacy law. A source described their highlight of the seat as “getting to taking the lead on certain projects which were specific to clients’ needs: getting an idea of the type of the agreement they needed and drafting it from scratch or reviewing what they already had.”
The broader corporate department is characterised by lean deal teams: “Where the other side has four or five trainees on a transaction, we often have just one. The partner and associate will really rely on us.” As such, one source got to draft the main transaction document on a deal, a rare treat for a trainee. Cooley’s practice specialises in technology, telecommunications, media and life sciences deals; the team represented Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC in its acquisition of a 9.9% stake in pest control specialist Anticimex. The corporate seat’s known for offering client contact: “We get more interaction than in litigation because deals move so quickly.” Although corporate law can “test and push you,” interviewees praised supervisors for “sitting down with trainees and going through any mistakes, to help us improve for the future.”
In normal circumstances, trainees all share an office with their supervisor; during the 2020 lockdown, our sources had daily contact and each department ran group check-ins “to make sure everyone was okay. Managers liken us all to a family, which is really sweet; they’re really good at making everyone feel included.” Trainees unanimously felt that “everyone takes a big interest in learning and development,” and even London managing partner Justin Stock sits in on associate and trainee committee meetings. There are also departmental committees comprised of all associates in a practice group internationally: “It’s a chance for people to air concerns and come up with a collective solution, which then goes to the partners.”
Many were impressed that pro bono is “valued at the same level as billables and nobody ever says ‘oh, it’s only pro bono.’ The cases are really useful for getting first-hand experience.” Common examples include social security and benefits cases, asylum and immigration matters – voicing an interest is all that’s needed to get involved. Similarly in keeping with US firm stereotypes, hours across the board at Cooley can get long: “You can expect 11-hour days.” One particularly unlucky trainee worked until 1am for a fortnight to close a deal, but even they were magnanimous about it all. “The team is really supportive, and we chose this career – no one came into it oblivious about late finishes.”
“It’s a rite of passage. That’s how everyone gets to know us and size us up!”
Cooley isn’t all work, no play – a dedicated budget for trainees is part of a shining social scene. They’re also put in charge of organising the Christmas quiz: “It’s a rite of passage. That’s how everyone gets to know us and size us up!” Outside the festive season, the firm hosts office-wide socials known as ‘Cooley Relax & Rewind,’ plus events hosted by the firm’s inclusion networks. The Minority Associate Network runs film screenings, while the Women’s Network has a book club. Insiders noted that many first years in the trainee cohort had international backgrounds, and the vast majority were female: “There’s top-down commitment to diversity. It’s not just a box-ticking exercise.” The London office has previously hosted talks from diverse California-based partners. Cooley’s hot on wellbeing, too, offering free yoga and bi-weekly mindfulness sessions.
Sitting with the Cool kids
“Cooley is really keen on people who have interesting backgrounds or a cool previous career,”trainees revealed. “Anything that makes you stand out and shows you’re a well-rounded person will help your application.”
How to get a Cooley training contract
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 January 2021 (via vac scheme)
Vacation scheme deadline (2023): 31 January 2021
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 and associate-led skills sessions and talks. “There are structured activities like group-based tasks, and vac schemers will also get exposure and contribute 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 128 UCAS points at A level (ABB) (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. “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. We like to see a strong work ethic”
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 27
- Assistant solicitors 58
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 15
- Graduate recruiter: Sarah Warnes, [email protected]
- Training principal: 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: ABB (excluding General Studies)
- Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 10
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 19th October 2020
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31st January 2021
- Vacation scheme applications open: 19th October 2020
- Vacation scheme 2021 deadline: 31st January 2021
- 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: £120,000
- 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 2020
Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing at Cooley
Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as the mental wellbeing of our colleagues, are embedded in Cooley’s culture, and we are committed to being a leader in the legal community One of the ways we encourage inclusivity is through engagement with our affinity groups. Our affinity groups welcome and encourage participation from all Cooley employees and promote a supportive and inclusive environment to ensure all members of the Cooley family are able to bring their authentic selves to the workplace. Some of our affinity group offerings include for LGBTQ+ lawyers, professional staff and allies, Minority Associates, Asian Pacific Islander Attorneys, Black Attorneys, Caregivers, Veterans, attorneys working an alternative work schedule and our Women’s Initiative.
Cooley is committed to building strategies that move us forward on the journey of building a firm and workplace that reflects diversity, equity and inclusion for all. Our leadership and partnership are both transparent and accountable to our diversity, equity and inclusion progress. We apply metrics by developing diversity data dashboards that track trends and identify gaps across several key areas of hiring, retention and promotion firmwide. Developed by our Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and circulated among all partners on a quarterly basis, our analytics highlight statistics specific to each office and practice group and visualise trends around dimensions of hiring, promotion, retention, flexible work schedule trends, diverse talent pipeline and other insights. We commit to publicly sharing and maintaining accountability for Cooley’s progress and to work toward systemic change within the firm, the broader industry and our communities. Our Fight for Racial Justice details some of the additional steps we are taking.
Cooley is deeply committed to advancing mental well-being in our industry, as well as continuing to raise awareness and implement new programmes to meet the needs of our greatest asset – our people. With wide-ranging benefits that include comprehensive mental health programmes, family and childcare support, as well as physical health, Cooley takes a “whole person” approach to your well-being. As participants in the Mindful Business Charter, we are working with other industry leaders to address some of the avoidable stresses in our working practices to promote healthier and more effective ways of working. Cooley’s partner-led mental health and wellness committee is dedicated to destigmatising all issues related to mental health, including anxiety, depression, stress, and substance use. They are vocal champions for self-care and well-being, and through their leadership, we have cultivated a culture of wellness at every level of the firm.
Linkedin: Cooley LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
- Public International Law (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 6)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 3)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 4)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 3)