Cooley LLP - The Inside View

Cooley's increasingly global legal experts are often the go-to lawyers for high-growth companies of all descriptions.

COOLEY and Silicon Valley's histories are intertwined: in the 1950s, for example, the firm's lawyers helped set up one of the West Coast's first ever venture capital firms. VC work remains one of Cooley's best-known strengths. It also advised a profusion of tech companies in Northern California whose computer chips and mind-bending gadgetry put the 'Silicon' in the 'Valley'. These days, life sciences, pharma and media industry companies feature as prominently in the client roster as pure tech. The common link is high growth.

"A firm made for the present.”

Juniors we spoke to were attracted to the firm because of the type of work it deals with, but also because culturally “it's a firm that is looking forward – a firm made for the present.” Cooley's own rapid growth in recent years also created a buzz among associates: “We're growing, but not for the sake of growth. Rather, we're growing strategically – expanding in both expertise and practice groups, but also offices.” Unsurprisingly, the firm achieves several top Chambers USA rankings for VC and startup-related expertise, and other ranked practices cover life sciences, corporate, capital markets, IP, litigation, and tech.

The Work & Offices

The 'business' (corporate) practice takes about two-thirds of juniors, with the remaining third in litigation. Traditionally starting as generalists within their designated group, newbies are free to explore different areas. 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. While work assignment partners are usually on hand to dish out work, this varies from office to office. Many reported: “No one describes it as free market, but you can get the work you want or seek out individuals you like working for.”

“I could be running deals that are hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Newbies in the business group start out broad, doing a mix of things which could range from startups to M&A and IPOs. Emerging companies work sees juniors deal with companies through their whole life cycle: “The beginning can be incorporation and formation of the entity, hiring employees, and venture capital financing, which is a big part of what we do. We help companies manage those transactions.” Responsibility-wise, juniors reported receiving “more oversight from partners with bigger VCs, although generally you get a lot of autonomy. I could be running deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.” The final stretch of the cycle sometimes sees the group taking companies public. Tasks include “a certain amount of procedural work” like doc review and due diligence, but also “thoughtful analysis of documents” including investment reviews, and drafting various agreements. A Palo Alto source reflected: “I talk to friends at other firms who are still stuck doing data entry, which is frustrating for them. There's some level of that to any job, but at least here, you're given not only the room to grow, but the tools to grow.”

“The companies tend to be small, so I get a lot of interaction with the owner or CEO.”

Given Cooley's high volume of work with startups, corporate juniors here weren't short of client contact: “The companies tend to be small, so I get a lot of interaction with the owner or CEO.” Many reported being “the main point of contact” for these clients, as well as negotiator with opposing counsel. “It's daunting at first, but people were willing to review emails I was sending out. It was good to just jump right in.” The unpredictable workload meant “sometimes it's like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant” – but “that's going to be the case anywhere.”

Litigators “get to work on all different kinds of cases, depending on the partner you work for and what's available at the time.” Junior litigators often see repeat clients because “once familiar with one, if anything else comes up with that client you're expected to work on it too because you know the business.” The work includes legal research, discovery, advising clients on particular laws, and drafting documents. A San Diego junior highlighted “it's definitely not all doc review – it's actually a surprisingly small amount of what we do. I almost would have liked more!” Sources also appreciated “getting great experience in different areas, not just writing, but being able to manage a case and have ownership of it.” A downside juniors highlighted was that “it's harder to get client contact on the litigation side,” though most noted they'd “had it here and there.” Client contact was more common with smaller clients, usually in employment cases, where “the businesses can't really afford to take up lots of time with partners.” Generally, though, “partners are happy to give you more responsibility if they feel you're capable of handling it. If you do good work, you'll get given plenty of substantive work.”

California firms are already laid back, but San Diego is especially laid back – that's why I love it.”

Most juniors are based in the Palo Alto HQ, followed by San Diego and San Francisco. The PA branch is “shaped like a horseshoe – you always get lost at first, ending up at one end of the horseshoe then walking back.” Those in San Diego felt “California firms are already laid back, but San Diego is especially laid back – that's why I love it.” Juniors on the East Coast can be found mostly in DC, Boston, and New York. A New Yorker described their office as like “the Wild West – it's slightly disorganized just because it's growing so fast!” Another noted that “Cooley's other offices were built more recently and they're much more hip and modern, which is Cooley's brand. We look more like a traditional New York office.” Smaller offices like Reston, Seattle, and Broomfield were said to be “very close knit.”

Training & Development

Training gets under way with a week of Cooley College in Palo Alto. It covers “everything you're meant to know in a condensed period.” This includes educating juniors on the firm's identity, initial practice-specific training, and meeting fellow juniors from across all offices. “They kind of give you too much information, where you can't really retain all of it,” one source had found. Luckily, juniors receive “a handy dandy binder to refer to for everything you need.” Formal training is then practice-specific and usually occurs monthly. One source enthused “they're always talking internally about how to make it better, but I actually already think it's very good.”

Pro Bono

For the Cooley gang, the sky's the limit when it comes to pro bono. The firm is “very, very committed” to this type of work and doesn't cap the hours associates can spend on it. Sources had been involved in a range of cases including immigration and asylum, work for KIND [Kids In Need of Defense], and clemency projects that address sentencing disparities. Juniors also said “the firm is happy to encourage other projects we want to look into, within our practice area or something different.” As well as getting experience in different fields, juniors valued the “experience with clients, and in courtrooms” that pro bono work can bring.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 43,858
  • Average per US attorney: 57


“Cooley is a firm that values individuals,” sources described. “It's still BigLaw – there's still the expectation that you can jump on something at a moment's notice, but they want everybody to be themselves.” Many highlighted the “Silicon Valley-cool” vibe that permeates each of the offices, whether East or West Coast. Even with dress code, the firm sheds that stereotypical Law & Order look: “People are okay with you dressing casually, and that matches our client base.” Juniors emphasized that “an important aspect of our culture is having smart lawyers, but also good people.” Collaboration is also key: one source noted “people that tend to do well here are people who are capable of saying “hey, I don't know everything,” and that's fine, but be confident to work with other people to find solutions.”

“Silicon Valley-cool.”

The firm hosts monthly happy hours, and while “it's a little different to places where everyone wanders down to the pub, we do a good job of having a good time as a group.” The social scene varies by office, with San Diego sources, for example, feeling their city was “sleepier than New York or San Francisco,” and “more family-focused.” Palo Alto, meanwhile, boasts its own softball team (“we won the championship which was a big deal!”).

Hours & Compensation

“Over time you're able to achieve more balance, but the most negative part of this job is that it demands so much time,” one associate mused. “The realistic approach for law students starting a career with a big firm is to understand that you're going to put in a big time commitment earlier in your career. It's just what it takes to become competent at your job.” The yearly target for Cooley's associates is 1,950 hours, which “people think is a fair number. Not everyone achieves it, but that's the point of a bonus.” On average, juniors put in ten to 12 hours in the office a day, and some said they could log back on at home “after putting the kids to sleep.” Others stressed that it's “flexible enough to get what I want to do done, and still meet work expectations.”

Associates also gave the thumbs up to the speed with which Cooley matched Cravath in the recent salaries hike. “Given our size, I think it's great we're matching it. I don't think it's a given considering we're not a New York firm.” As for bonuses, “this year they're emphasizing that it's completely discretionary.” Many felt it was “a little bit of a black box. Cooley send out a letter talking about the decision-making and bonus process, but it's not 100% transparent.”


“We have several very established women partners who are very supportive."

“The Bay area is generally very diverse, very liberal, and very accepting,” a Palo Alto junior reminded us. However, the general consensus on Cooley's diversity was that “they're making an effort but it's tough. The recruiting pool isn't particularly large and that's a big problem. It's certainly a high priority for the firm.” The firm promotes several affinity groups, and has a diversity fellowship program for law students. Recipients can spend their 1L and 2L summers with the firm and receive a total of $30,000 toward law school tuition (the third and final $10,000 installment is paid when they join as an associate). Offices vary when it comes to gender diversity – for instance, New Yorkers said “partnership is slightly less diverse than the group as a whole” while San Diego sources claimed “we have several very established women partners who are very supportive, and that's been great.”

Strategy & Future

“I think the firm is looking closely at where the economy is going and where law practice is going, and intends to be on the forefront of 21st century law firms going forward,” juniors reckoned. The plan is “to continue to grow and expand strategically.” CEO Joe Conroy confirms this: “Our strategy involves continued investment in our power centers,” namely “California/Silicon Valley” and “the Boston to DC corridor, including New York.” Globally, Conroy explains, “we will also be expanding to other markets where it makes sense.” He highlights Germany as “a likely target as it's a nexus to what we do really well.”



Get Hired

Cooley's interview process puts emphasis on behavioral interviewing techniques, designed to “assess critical skills the firm looks for in attorneys.” After that, interviewers “look for someone who, if I had to work until midnight, I'd be willing to work alongside. If they're not talking and it's like pulling teeth, it's easy to say they're probably not going to fit in here.” Another source explained that “seeming like a real human being to clients is super-important.” Juniors therefore advised that interviewees “show an interest in what we do, and show you have personality.”

“Attorneys get client contact very early in their careers at Cooley. We want people who are excited about that, and are willing to jump in and take a visible role early on,” highlights Carrie Wagner, director of legal talent at Cooley. She also reiterates the need for candidates to have the core competencies valued in BigLaw, which include intelligence, mastery of law, motivation, initiative, and collaboration. She also explains: “My number one recommendation is forcandidates to be themselves. Students do themselves a disservice when they present themselves as the type of candidate they believe we are looking to hire. It's important that both sides find the right fit, and that can only happen when both the student and the firm is being candid about what they are seeking.”

As for what students can be doing now to increase their chances of impressing at interview, “I encourage students to start doing their research on firms as early as possible. It is important they go into the interview process having some idea of what they are looking for, both by way of practice and culture, and why the firms they are interviewing with would be a good fit for them personally.”

In the past, candidates have reached out to people at the firm prior to interviewing, establishing connections early on. “The students who really stand out are those who look for opportunities to cultivate relationships with us prior to the start of interviewing season. We spend a lot of time getting to know students during their first year of law school, and more and more of the 2Ls we hire for our summer program are students we have gotten to know before OCI even begins.”

Interview with Cooley CEO Joe Conroy

What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?

From several perspectives, 2016 was another in a string of remarkable years for us. We have seen incredible financial growth – we are one of few firms that are performing financially while growing. We hired 23 lateral partners, who have been immediately put to work helping our clients and adding strength and depth to our capabilities – something that benefits all Cooley lawyers and provides greater opportunity for growth. In addition, we continue to improve the quality of our workplace. This is the third year we've made Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, and we’re the #1 law firm on it. We have a strong commitment across the institution that, as we grow, we maintain our culture.

Given that our readers wouldn't be joining your firm for another couple of years, what's the general strategy going forwards?

To sum up our long-term strategy, we plan on being and staying an elite and distinctive law firm, with a differentiated culture. We're dedicated to retaining a single global partnership that's not only elite in terms of results for our clients, but in terms of profitability and brand dominance in our key areas, for example tech and high-growth companies. We will also continue to grow strategically, but will remain the same firm and will maintain our culture.

What effect do you think a Trump presidency will have on the legal market?

In general, I would say change will always present opportunity for the legal industry. Good lawyers find creative strategies to help clients navigate change.

Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices?

Our strategy involves continued investment in our power centers: California/Silicon Valley is one, it is one of the world’s largest and most important economic powerhouses, and so key to our brand. Second, we have the Boston to DC corridor, including New York, the financial capital of the world, where we are thriving and building increasingly dominant practices. Our London office serves as the beachhead for our European experience. We plan on finishing what we have started, by creating dominant practices and maintaining them in our powerhouses. We will also be expanding to other markets where it makes sense, be they in the United States or globally. As we find out what Brexit will mean for Europe, we will also find our way to other places on the continent – Germany is a likely target as it is a nexus to what we do so well.

How does investment in new technology fit into the firm's strategy?

My opinion is perhaps a bit different from other law firm leaders who speak on this, and preach that a large portion of success going forward is about innovation. Although we are great at collaborating with innovation, when compared to our clients we – like all large law firms – are not particularly innovative with respect to the use of technology in delivering client service. Our value is in our understanding of innovation. We know as the business of Big Law evolves, we need to become more innovative, and I think that we are on the leading edge of that curve. Our IT budget for 2017 devotes more money than ever before to innovation. Some of that will be internal, and some will be devoted to partnering with clients.

How would you define the firm's culture?

First, I think we are known well for our culture, and I know that is a competitive advantage. Our culture is first and foremost about finding excellence and achievement – great lawyers and great service. The piece of our culture that's known is in regard to how we do that. We treat each other with respect and that culture facilitates and incentivizes collaborative behavior, teamwork. We are striving to be leaders in fixing the problem of being a member of Big Law – we are woefully less diverse and inclusive than we need to be to really thrive. Those are the pieces of our culture that are best known and serve as significant differentiators, not only in recruiting new lawyers, but also with respect to how we work with our clients who are the beneficiaries of that service.

What was the firm like when you joined and how has it changed?

The firm I joined 17 years ago was a great firm with, at the time, an 80-year history. It was a regional firm, heavily weighted toward smaller companies, tech companies, and business rather than litigation. Today we are an elite global firm with much greater geographical balance, and a balance between big and small company clients. We also have a better business and litigation balance – it is almost 50-50 now.

What's the relationship like between your office and the other offices? Where does it seem the decisions are made?

We work hard to be one firm, despite our large geographical coverage and number of offices. Often when partners join us from other firms, they say our firm is much more integrated across offices than they expected. As CEO, most of my time is spent on the road visiting offices, but our lawyers are organized more around practice groups than by geography. This is so that we can provide for clients, no matter where they are, and give the most effective and efficient service. In terms of strategic decisions, these are made by the firm's management committee – a ten-person committee composed of thought leaders from across the firm. It is not done by governance, and the partnership agreement does not require any representation of offices, just by a broad committee. We have worked hard to create opinions in that room that are not just strong, informed and institutional, but also diverse. That is why our management committee is now 60% diverse in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

My advice is to always understand and take the interview process seriously. Realize that it's a two-way process and that it is important to end up in a place that's comfortable for you, and to be at a firm that has values consistent with your own. Take the time to really get to know the firm, not as an institution but as a collection of human beings. You should pick a firm that will look you in the eye on your first day and say, “Learn your craft.” Regardless of where you end up in your career, going into any Big Law firm you are going to be around some of the smartest and most interesting people you will meet and learn from.

A few Silicon Valley facts

The southern portion of the San Francisco Bay area is home to more tech whizzes than you could shake a USB stick at. As a result, it's garnered a lot of attention with law firms too, each more willing than the next to represent your start-up, or your well-established tech Fortune 500 corporation. So here's a few things you might want to know if you're setting your sights on this tech-centric area:

  • The region isn't particularly precise, but is generally considered to cover portions of Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Alameda counties.
  • In a 2008 study, it was the third largest cybercity in the US (next to the New York metropolitan area, and Washington metropolitan area), but had the highest concentration of high-tech workers in any metropolitan area.
  • The 'Silicon' in the name stems from the large number of silicon chip/semiconductor manufacturers that started in the area.
  • The informal term gained more traction in the 80s when IBM introduced the good old PC.
  • Silicon Valley accounts for one-third of venture capital investment in the entire US.
  • 39 companies from the Fortune 1000 are headquartered here including Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Adobe, Oracle, and Visa.
  • The comedy TV show Silicon Valley is based on co-creator Mike Judge's experience working at a startup in Silicon Valley.
  • Silicon Valley sees the third highest number of patents filed annually, behind Tokyo and Shenzhen-Guangdong. In 2013, this number was around 8,000.


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: $974,000,000
  • Partners (US): 300
  • Associates (US): 600
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes, through Diversity Fellowship
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 56 (48 2L’s, 7 1L’s, 1 SEO)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 62 offers, 56 acceptances, 1 deferred

Main areas of work
Advertising, antitrust and competition, capital markets, class actions, commercial litigation, communications, copyright, corporate, corporate restructuring and bankruptcy, debt finance, emerging companies, employment and labor, estate planning, financial services, fund formation, government contracts, healthcare, education, IP litigation, insurance/ reinsurance, investment funds, life sciences, M&A, private equity, patent prosecution and counseling, privacy and data protection, public companies, regulatory, real estate, retail, securities, shareholder activism, 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, 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 diversity and inclusiveness and to create opportunities for professional growth. It is proud to be one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Cooley considers its commitment to the communities in which it operates to be one of its highest priorities and each year performs thousands of hours of pro bono legal services and other forms of community service.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 50
• Number of 2nd year associates: 53
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Please refer to the Events portion of our website for a list of the job fairs and campuses we will visit during the 2017 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.