Cooley LLP - True Picture

This firm hails from California and is one cool customer when it comes to the most innovative tech and life sciences work in the market.

Cooley training contract review 2022

The Firm

It’s full steam ahead at Cooley in London: in May 2021 the firm moved to new digs at 22 Bishopsgate – one of the City’s latest skyscrapers, completed in 2020. It’s a sign that Cooley is looking to scale new heights in the London legal market, which it opened up shop in back in 2015. Our trainee sources were very much caught up in the excitement: “It’s a swanky new office, which is bigger and brighter than our old base and has flashy mod cons!” Interviewees informed us that they’d be working more regularly in this new base from September 2021.

“ get the sense that the firm wants to achieve something special here and it’s not wasting any time going about it.”

A swanky office is all well and good, but for our sources it was just the icing on the cake of a training contract that is still relatively new in the market. Part of the attraction when trainees applied was that “it seemed like an exciting time to join the firm – it was still in ‘start-up’ mode in London.” That energy is still felt today, with this interviewee explaining that “you get the sense that the firm wants to achieve something special here and it’s not wasting any time going about it. We're all expected to drive the firm's growth and contribute in whatever way we can, which makes for a very vibrant culture.”

On its home turf in the US, Cooley is known for its Palo Alto roots and highly revered expertise in all things to do with technology companies and start-ups. This wasn’t lost on our interviewees, who highlighted Cooley London’s “standout work within the tech and life sciences sectors” as a major motivator for joining. Given these industry specialisms, “the people that you get to work with are really interesting” – think experts in their fields, budding entrepreneurs and individuals representing the most established tech companies in the world. So, if you like your firm to have an innovative edge and a London presence that allows you “to make an impact,” then this could be the one for you. At the moment, Chambers UK recognises Cooley’s London offering in areas such as venture capital, product liability, life sciences (transactional), insurance and mid-market corporate/M&A.

The Seats

Cooley's trainees typically complete two litigious and two transactional seats (but that pattern is not set in stone). Some do split seats – for example, they might do a mix of M&A work from the corporate and life sciences groups. With seat allocation, “the legal talent teamtake into account what we want to do and are receptive to our ideas, then they see which groups require trainees.” This means that trainees “don’t actually know what’s available” at each rotation, which led to the process being dubbed “a little opaque.” However, most sources were pleased with what they got, with one highlighting that their “input was valued.”

The technology transactions group (TTG) handles commercial, IP and regulatory matters – these could pertain to issues like GDPR rules and consumer protection, tech procurement arrangements and licensing deals. The team represents a range of tech companies operating in areas such as finance, media and fashion. Clients include Babylon Healthcare Services, FaceApp and DocuSign; the group recently advised Danish outfit Humio as it struck a global licensing agreement with IBM. Our sources had spent quite some time working on commercial contracts: “We help to draft those contracts, but also assist with due diligence on corporate deals and advise on IP and privacy-related issues.” Trainees can get to grips with the ins and outs of European consumer law and told us that there’s plenty of responsibility up for grabs: “I was negotiating the terms of partnership agreements and drafting provisions. I also did a lot of research into the relevant UK and EU laws.”

“I was negotiating the terms of partnership agreements and drafting provisions.”

In corporate you’re likely to work on many a cross-border M&A deal, but could also come across joint ventures, divestitures, takeovers and shareholder activism matters. Among the expected tech and life sciences clients, you’ll also find companies and organisations operating in the education, media and consumer goods spaces. On the roster at present is Brainlabs, ICS Learn and IRIS Software. A recent deal involved representing cybersecurity start-up Snyk as it acquired DeepCode, a Swiss company that has sophisticated AI technology that can analyse code. A source ran us through the typical M&A process: “Normally, there’s a company that wants to buy another company – maybe a large private institution wants to buy a smaller tech or life sciences start-up. We then complete the due diligence process, there’s a lot of back and forth in the negotiation stages, then when you get through to signing it’s just a matter of everyone signing the documents.” Typical trainee tasks include drafting and preparing corporate approvals, board minutes and shareholder resolutions.

The product compliance and liability team “helps companies to launch products across various jurisdictions in the world.” For trainees, this means “liaising with local counsel and gathering advice for the team to present to clients.” The group could be advising clients on the likes of the ramifications of certain regulations, safety concerns, logistical issues and even future legislation that may affect a certain product. As you might expect, the trainee role is centred on research on a whole manner of niche and interesting areas: “I spent two weeks researching plant health legislation in the EU and found out how difficult it is to import seeds! I also got to research artificial intelligence laws and regulations too.” Whirlpool, Polaris and Stanley Black & Decker are all clients here. Cooley represents Whirlpool during any regulatory or litigious issues it encounters, and the group recently acted for it during the Grenfell Public Inquiry.

“I spent two weeks researching plant health legislation in the EU and found out how difficult it is to import seeds! I also got to research artificial intelligence laws and regulations too.”

The litigation team handles commercial matters that can span crisis management, complex disputes and strategic guidance. Tata Steel, insurance outfit Hiscox and IQVIA Healthcare are clients here; the group recently represented the latter during its $330 million dispute with a Swiss pharma company over a global clinical trial and its contractual obligations in relation to it. Trainees mentioned getting involved in contractual disputes, but the practice also has white-collar crime, product liability and public international law specialists. Our sources had drafted pleadings and letters, corresponded with clients, conducted doc review and completed ad hoc research tasks. One recalled a large matter where they “provided a lot of regulatory advice, liaised with local counsel overseas, and prepared digital bundles and chronologies of the case.” Rookies tend to receive more responsibility on smaller claims: “You take more of a lead on these and can handle the correspondence that’s going back and forth. I had a great experience in litigation: I’ve been treated as an active member of the team and was always asked my opinion in discussions.”

Trainee Life

“It’s just a really good vibe,” a trainee enthused when describing Cooley’s culture. These good vibes were reportedly fostered by the firm's smaller and laid-back office environment in London. One interviewee emphasised: “We’re quite a small firm, so you instantly get to know all the faces in the office.” This pleasant atmosphere doesn’t mean that Cooley lacks ambition – quite the opposite, as this trainee explained to us: “We strive to be the best US firm in London without having that internally competitive feel. Everyone is highly driven, intelligent and competent, but also really nice and down to earth.”

Being the best US firm in London requires some hard graft, and trainees at Cooley do put in the hours like their fellow City counterparts. Our sources were typically starting around 9/9.30am and finishing anywhere between 7pm and 10pm. “The hours are demanding but I’m happy to do it, as I’m getting good exposure to projects,” said one, revealing the mindset that trainees have towards their working hours. “It doesn’t go unnoticed that you’re working long hours,” another source added, “and there’s no need to be online for the sake of it – people are respectful of your time.” When there’s “a busy case or deal, you are expected to work late into the night if need be,” which can mean some early morning finishes. However, these are “the exception” and a trainee told us that “there aren’t prolonged periods like that.”

“We strive to be the best US firm in London without having that internally competitive feel.”

Cooley has a variety of affinity groups, which a source felt have been more active recently. “We have small group discussions and have had speakers coming in to host conversations that we really needed to have to grow.” The firm recently hosted the author of White Fragility, Robin Diangelo, who spoke about implicit bias and racism via videoconference so all of Cooley's lawyers could tune in. A trainee explained that “the goal is to create a space that people want to join and stay in – that's a healthy and happy environment.” Another trainee wanted to flag the initiatives Cooley has in place to promote good mental health, which include a mental health coach, ten free therapy sessions per year, and ‘Mindful Mondays’, where lawyers can take a little time out of their day to de-stress.

Trainees have a supervisor in each seat who is typically a mid to senior-level associate. Supervisors are rookies’ first port of call: “We have frequent chats and check-ins; they’re advocating on our behalf and help us out if we are ever struggling.” In addition, trainees have fortnightly catch-ups with the training principal and newbies are paired up with a trainee buddy in the year above.

All that support and guidance no doubt comes in handy when the qualification process starts. Trainees are encouraged to be vocal, according to this interviewee: “It’s more that you’re expected to say ‘I would really like to work in this team’ and then they come back to you.” The firm confirmed that there isn't an overly formal process around qualification: the legal talent team typically asks qualifiers which departments they are interested in during April each year, before liaising with these groups to find out if there is capacity. If there's only one person going for a role, an informal chat takes place and hopefully a confirmation is delivered soon after. In 2021, Cooley retained three of its four qualifiers.

And Finally... Cooley now offers its lawyers £45,000 to put towards fertility treatment. The firm also covers adoption costs as part of its benefits package to fund access to family forming services.


How to get a Cooley training contract 


Training contract deadline (2024): 31 January 2022 (via vac scheme)  

Vacation scheme deadline for programmes in summer (2022): 31 January 2022

Applications and assessments 

Cooley recruits through its summer programme and usually receives around 700 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 does not impress. 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 in the best way possible. Ultimately this doesn't put them in a strong position. We can see in someone's writing whether they have 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 15 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 more closely 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.  

Trainee profile  

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.” 

This firm has no profile.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • 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)