Cooley LLP - The Inside View

For associates at this tech whiz there are plenty of opportunities to get ahead without needing to scrap the vacation.

BEST known for advising promising startups and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, Cooley's forte lies in all things technology, life sciences, venture capital, emerging companies and IP. Palo Alto is the nerve center of the firm's ten US offices, flanked by international offices in Shanghai and London, the latter celebrating its first birthday in 2016. “It's allowed us to work on transactions that otherwise we wouldn't have,” says a cheerful Joe Conroy, Cooley's CEO. “It's been a long held aspiration of ours to be a truly global firm, and setting up in London was a big step toward achieving that.” There's a lot of positivity about Cooley right now, as a quick search of the legal press over the past year or two will reveal.

The aim for Cooley's 900-odd lawyers now is to crack into the global elite, a market position in which Conroy feels there's a Cooley-shaped gap. He elaborates: “We can distinguish ourselves by being the only top 30 firm that can boast expertise in tech, life sciences, and representing high-growth companies of all stripes.” Key in driving this ambition will be a 50:50 balance between transactional and litigious work, a platform that has already been “fundamental in successfully weathering economic climate variations.” Such a dual offering also means “we're better positioned to drive our revenue by cross-selling our services across our core client base,” and with giants like eBay, Facebook and Google all on the books, it's probably a smart move.

Perhaps most encouraging for law students is that Cooley's summer hiring is now looking healthier than ever. This year the summer class has leapt up to 65, from 42 in 2015. Director of legal talent Carrie Wagner says “like many firms, Cooley has a demand for junior level associates across a variety of practice areas.”

The Work

Litigation and 'business' (corporate) are big takers, so usually just a few associates are divided between specialty groups such as real estate, healthcare, IP lit, and employment. Traditionally starting as generalists within their designated group, newbies are free to explore different areas, and felt “encouraged to forge working relationships with a number of different associates and partners.” For litigators this means a mix of antitrust, commercial disputes, IP and white-collar crime cases, whereas transactional hopefuls keep busy in subgroups like corporate/M&A, emerging or public companies, technology, and venture capital. All have access to an assignment partner, who is supposed to help keep track of who's doing what. In practice, “nothing much tends to come from it,” with interviewees finding “work comes more organically, so it's important to make an effort with partners whose work interests you.” Palo Alto has recently tried to improve the allocation process by placing associates into groups for weekly catch-ups, a development that sources noted “has helped everyone to get a better sense of each other's workload.”

"Three years here is like six elsewhere”

“It's important to stress that in terms of client interaction and experience, three years here is like six elsewhere” asserted one associate. Early on, business juniors are expected to work for a mix of public and private company clients. “It makes your client advice that bit more rounded,” opined one deal-doer, as “you really appreciate what private companies have to do to become a successful public company.” Providing better value for money that their more senior colleagues, rookies in business also do a lot of work with startups. “I'm only a third-year,” boasted one, “but I'm the firm's go-to for numerous clients. Working on big IPOs provides a great insight into partners' case management techniques, but working on startups provides you with a platform to develop and try out your own.”

Litigators begin by ploughing through their fair share of doc review and research tasks, though “partners do take your successes into account,” so doors open for those who are ready. “I started on a lot of internal investigations,” remembered one caller, “and mainly took notes on interviews. After a few months I felt confident enough to suggest subjects to cover and key documents to look at. Soon after the partner I was working for encouraged me to try interviewing, myself.”

"It's a very challenging but rewarding environment to be in.”

“We need associates who can step up quickly, be smart about what they can do on their own, and grasp the nettle,” concluded a Boston-based source. “We are very well supported by our senior colleagues, but are expected to take ownership of our work and make decisions earlier than you'd probably expect. It's a very challenging but rewarding environment to be in.”

Offices & Training

A cornerstone of Cooley's associate training program, Cooley College sees all first-years and junior laterals flown out to Palo Alto for a jam-packed week of training and networking. The main objectives are threefold: to further educate juniors about the firm's identity and modus operandi, to provide initial practice-specific training, and to encourage greenhorns from across Cooley's ten US offices to make ties that'll stick with them.

Foundations are laid during the course of the summer program, where newbies break the ice over a long weekend in Palo Alto. “The first two days are spent in the HQ doing training exercises, and the other two focus on team building in a resort outside of San Francisco.” A year on, associates head back to the Bay for a full week, and Cooley College opens its doors.

To facilitate a smooth integration, things like happy hours, an assault course challenge and formal dinners are staged. The latter are “well attended by partners from across the firm,” providing “a great opportunity to get talking and hear more about their practices.” Despite such a busy schedule, interviewees were grateful to have had “plenty of free time at the end of the day to plan our own activities and get together for drinks.”

"Bonds are strong because of the efforts Cooley makes to support cross-office integration."

The training sees juniors divided into transactional and litigious streams, with each organizing partner-led talks on specific practice groups. There are also skills workshops covering areas such as effective writing, discovery and time management. Such gatherings not only “make it much easier to reach out for advice in the future,” but also play an important part in decentralizing the balance of power between offices. “The relationships formed have helped us to set up cross office-training sessions with the Reston office,” said one DC Cooleyite. “There's no sense that we have to sign anything off in California. The value and expertise in each office is well appreciated, and those bonds are strong because of the efforts Cooley makes to support cross-office integration.”

Pro Bono

"It was nerve-racking."

With no cap on the amount of pro bono hours attorneys can bill, “hitting your hours while giving a little back is definitely achievable.” Do-gooders who rack up a half century receive an award recognizing their efforts, though “we're under no pressure either way.” Associates are “encouraged to seek out causes that inspire us,” but a pro bono coordinator “regularly sends out emails relating to immigration, clemency, and domestic violence cases,” for those who need a pointer. “There are corporate opportunities available” too, “but the firm has been really supportive of my desire to try out some litigation. Having that variation has been fun.” Pro bono is also a good way to dip your toes into more senior responsibility, as one litigator had discovered: “I got to make my first court appearance on a pro bono case. It was nerve-racking, but I was glad to have had that early opportunity.”

Pro bono hours  

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 38,667
  • Average per US attorney: 48

Culture & Hours

“I feel that we are a little misunderstood,” states CEO Joe Conroy. “Cooley isn't a lifestyle firm. We put a lot of effort into being a great place to work, but in our eyes a good workplace is not measured by how many Fitbits you can give out or parties you can stage, but by how much you can help people to realize their ambitions.” Key to this is a trickle-down belief that rookies will help to form the partnership of the future, so “creating opportunities for associates is key to the firm's continued success.”

From Boston to Broomfield, insiders largely corroborated this view, with one New Yorker chiming: “It's very collaborative here. Everyone works extremely hard on their own work, but is willing to spend time helping others. Partners and more senior associates take this responsibility particularly seriously.” That's fortunate, because associates have plenty to be getting on with, with billable targets recently increased from 1,900 to 1,950 hours to match a rise in bonus compensation. “Meeting that goal hasn't been an issue,” several confessed. “It's been a busy year across the board, and it seems fair considering our salary.” As an additional sweetener, “the firm hands out appreciation dinners after particularly busy months.” According to one Bostonian, “they'll say 'bring us the bill' and they generally expect it to be pretty high.”

In June 2016, Cooley followed Cravath by announcing it would increase associate salaries in all its US offices, with first-years getting $180,000 and second-years $190,000.

“Cooley's new age vibe ditches any unnecessary stresses.”

“Cooley is pretty chilled when it comes to managing your work,” so associates tend to leave at around 7pm, putting in an hour or two at home later in the evening. The odd weekend stint was mentioned, but “it's rarely more than a few hours.” When vacation comes around, however, “people unplug,” and associates are “definitely encouraged to take and enjoy it as a way of keeping our outside lives in check.” In fact, “Cooley's new age vibe ditches any unnecessary stresses,” so associates are welcome to scrap their neckties, should they wish. “The real focus here is on getting results for clients and training our younger associates,” beamed one. “Most people wear slacks and a button-down.”


“Our talent pipeline is incredibly diverse," Carrie Wagner says. "One reason for this is our 1L Diversity Fellowship program, which provides high-performing diverse law students with summer placements after both their first and second year of law school, as well as a financial award to assist with the cost of tuition.” Further up the ladder, “diverse associates are exiting Big Law at higher rates than the overall associate population, and Cooley is committed to finding ways to increase the retention of diverse associates. Inclusion is imperative.” To lead this cross-office drive, Cooley brought in a diversity and inclusion manager in early 2015, and since then “the firm has been making tremendous strides toward inclusion and retention.”

“The firm has been making tremendous strides toward inclusion and retention.”

One of the key focuses has been to encourage more associates to take on leadership roles in affinity groups. When asked, juniors found the rise in sponsored diversity receptions “an effective way of getting our colleagues and clients to engage with the industry's shortcomings.” DC and San Fran callers also applauded Cooley's participation in the OnRamp Fellowship program. The scheme helps experienced female lawyers who've left the workforce – often to raise children or manage other family obligations – to return to action for six-month and one-year paid positions. “I've never felt that Cooley avoids promoting female senior associates to partner,” someone reasoned. “It's just that like many other law firms, a little more flexibility is needed to work around family commitments. It's really positive to see that program in action.”

Get Hired

"Students who can articulate how their prior work or academic experiences have led them to an interest in a certain practice."

To get in on the action, applicants will have to be ready to tackle Cooley's behavioral interviewing techniques, designed to uncover evidence of the core competencies the firm values. Commitment, initiative, intelligence and teamwork are all prized, and Carrie Wagner advises hopefuls to "be familiar with the behavioral interviewing technique so that they are prepared for these types of questions, which often begin 'Tell me about a time when...' We coach our interviewers to utilize this technique because we believe previous behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and we are focused on identifying students who display the competencies we have determined are critical to success for an attorney at Cooley." While self-reflection is important, applicants should make no secret of their ambitions: “Do not be afraid to make clear your goals and priorities," Carrie Wagner implores. "Students who can articulate how their prior work or academic experiences have led them to an interest in a certain practice area are of particular interest to Cooley."

Strategy & Future

Setting up shop in the English capital was “a big step” toward becoming a truly global firm, though CEO Joe Conroy insists that “London can't be it for us in Europe.” Boasting a “strong economy and hotbed of life sciences, medical tech and IP opportunities,” a waltz into Germany is “a medium-term inevitability.” Far East, Conroy would “also like to one day expand our presence in China” to better service the firm's “very robust client base there.”

Geographical ambitions form just part of Cooley's overarching strategy, identified by Conroy as obtaining “as much high-end work as possible.” For that to happen, “you need to be elite in every sense of the word: we need elite finances; elite practice capabilities; elite results; elite clients; and an elite brand.” Upholding the firm's rep as a go-to for emerging companies will also be key, and in the past year Cooley has “added an impressive number of emerging companies into our pipeline.”

“London can't be it for us in Europe.”

Interview with CEO Joe Conroy


Chambers Associate: What have been Cooley's highlights over the past year?

Joe Conroy: Our performance in London has certainly been noteworthy. It's been a long held aspiration of ours to be a truly global firm, and setting up in London was a big step towards achieving that. The office has had a great first year, and having an official presence there which is performing well has allowed us to work on transactions that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to.

Elsewhere, Cooley's 2015 will be remembered as an extraordinarily strong financial year, which when you're growing and investing aggressively is not always the case. Capital markets work has played a huge part in that financial success. The market window has been wide open and we've taken advantage, working on just shy of 100 public offerings and 32 IPOs. We've continued to rebalance our capital markets practice so as to take on more leading global investment banking clients. Our investment funds practice has performed strongly too. We've worked on more than 190 fund formations in the past year, which is important because those clients often require other legal services that we're well equipped to provide.

Our litigation group has continued to prove its value, drawing in a number of high-profile privacy and class action case wins for major clients such as Facebook. We've helped Patheon to successfully reject a $380 million antitrust suit, and been busy on privacy matters for Sony. It's great to see the litigation practice getting the recognition it finally deserves, as it's been a strong group for a while now.

It's also been a great year in our core tech, life sciences and emerging company practices. We've added an impressive number of emerging companies into our pipeline, an effort that'll be of crucial importance to us in the years ahead. As the tech world continues to proliferate we believe that there's a very valuable competitive position for us to aptly represent exciting upcoming companies when they're at an entrepreneurial stage.

CA: So looking ahead, what's your long-term vision for the firm?

JC: We feel more confident in the balance between transactional and litigation work than ever before. Business was hot this year, so in terms of our make-up the ratio has been about 55:45 in favour of transactional work. On a normal year it's more 50:50. We're very committed to keeping that balance, as it's fundamental in successfully weathering economic climate variations. It also means that we're better positioned to drive our revenue by cross-selling our services across our core client base.

In the long term, we're looking to get as much high-end work as possible. To do that you need to be elite in every sense of the word: we need elite finances; elite practice capabilities; elite results; elite clients; and an elite brand. At same time we feel we can distinguish ourselves by being the only top 30 firm that can boast expertise in tech, life sciences, and representing high-growth companies of all stripes.

CA: Are there any new locations that the firm plans to invest in to better assert itself as an elite global law firm?

JC: We have no immediate plans. Our growth in the States has always been fairly opportunistic, so I wouldn't rule out another office. That being said, it's not a high priority. We've stated publicly that London can't be it for us in Europe. With its strong economy and hotbed of life sciences, medical tech and IP opportunities, an office in Germany is a medium-term inevitability.

We'd also like to one day expand our presence in China. It was an extremely good year for our Shanghai office, we have cultivated a very robust client base there and we'll be looking at other locations in China to round out our offering.

CA: When it comes to making partner, what does the firm do to manage associates’ expectations and ambitions?

JC: Cooley made up twelve partners this past year. The numbers speak for themselves: in a world where many firms have chosen to counter economic uncertainty and competitive recruitment markets by making fewer partners, we have continued to promote. It ties into our 'born in the Valley' mentality: we don't recruit unless we can show young lawyers that there is a credible route to partnership at the firm. Nowadays many associates rightly feel that they have more options available to them, so are arguably less inclined to dig in for an eight or nine-year trip to partnership. We don't function on an old-school 'wait your turn' lockstep mentality. Seniority is gauged by the ability to service clients, so we are attuned to restocking our partnership with our best young talent.

CA: How would you characterise the firm's culture?

JC: Well, I feel that we are a little misunderstood. Cooley isn't a lifestyle firm. We put a lot of effort into being a great place to work, but in our eyes a good workplace is not measured by how many Fitbits you can give out or parties you can stage, but by how much you can help people to realize their ambitions.

We recruit people who want to work on the toughest, most taxing, interesting, high profile matters, and get involved in a deep and substantive way. Our partners are imbued with the notion that creating opportunities for associates is key to the firm's continued success. It's a very exciting, challenging and rewarding environment in which to operate and grow.

Cooley LLP

3175 Hanover Street,
Palo Alto,
CA 94304-1130

  • Head Office: Palo Alto, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $912,000,000
  • Partners (US): 300
  • Associates (US): 600
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,077/week
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes, through Diversity Fellowship
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 64
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 41 offers, 36 acceptances

Main areas of work Advertising, antitrust and competition, capital markets, class actions, commercial litigation, communications, copyright, corporate, corporate restructuring and bankruptcy, emerging companies, employment and labor, estate planning, financial services, government contracts, healthcare, education, IP litigation, insurance/reinsurance, investment funds, life sciences, M&A, patent prosecution and counseling, privacy and data protection, public companies, regulatory, real estate, retail, securities, tax, technology transactions, trademark, venture capital, white collar.

Firm profile Cooley’s lawyers solve legal issues for entrepreneurs, investors, financial institutions and established companies with a significant emphasis on technology, life sciences and other high growth industries. Clients partner with Cooley on transformative deals, complex IP and regulatory matters and bet-the-company litigation, often where innovation meets the law. Cooley goes to great lengths to maintain the culture of teamwork, collaboration, respect and excellence upon which it was established in 1920. Cooley strives to maintain an environment of inclusion and to create opportunities for professional growth and is proud to be one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Cooley considers its commitment to the communities in which it resides to be one of its highest priorities and performs thousands of hours of pro bono legal services and other forms of community service annually.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 44
• Number of 2nd year associates: 55
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016: Please refer to the Careers portion of our website for a list of the job fairs and campuses we will visit during the 2016 OCI season.

Summer details  

Summer associate profile:
Successful summer associates are highly motivated, independent thinkers, with a collaborative spirit and an entrepreneurial mindset. They have excelled both in and beyond the classroom. They recognize that the greatest successes are those achieved by a team. They take ownership, inspire confidence and are motivated by a shared sense of purpose.

Summer program components:
Cooley’s summer program is designed to give participants an unfiltered introduction to life and practice at the firm. It enables them to experience Cooley’s commitment to providing extraordinary legal services in a professional and collaborative environment. Comprehensive training opportunities are provided through “Cooley College”. Constructive feedback is provided at the conclusion of each assignment and in formal mid- and end of summer feedback sessions. Assigned mentors ensure that each summer associate is integrated into the firm over the course of the program.