This firm intends to keep its cool through economic downturns and remain a disruptor in innovative industries like tech and life sciences.
Mention the name ‘Cooley’ in any BigLaw space and you won’t be met with vacant expressions or glassy eyes. This firm is renowned for its market-leading work with tech and start-up clients, and chairman and CEO Joe Conroy makes it clear that Cooley is still very much committed to “sectors where there’s knowledge and credibility in the entrepreneurship on show – we support companies that are fast growing and chasing the latest trends.” The results of this approach are certainly reflected in Cooley’s Chambers USA rankings: the firm leads the nation when it comes to startups and emerging company work, as well as life sciences, international arbitration, and international trade matters. Cooley is also coveted for its capital markets, private equity fund formation, corporate, IP, and privacy and data security expertise. “We try to maintain a good balance between our business transactional and litigation practices, helping clients through every stage of their corporate life cycle," Conroy explains.
“Cooley is very type B as far as law firms go!”
For our sources, “there was no other player out there” like Cooley, who could offer them the raft of work in innovative sectors like tech and life sciences. Some of our interviewees already had backgrounds in these areas and wanted to join a firm “where I would really be able to add value.” The other factor that stood out to juniors was the firm’s distinctive West Coast vibe, with one declaring that “Cooley is very type B as far as law firms go!” Almost 40% of the associates on our list were based in the firm’s California offices, but the offices with the largest individual cohorts of juniors were New York and DC respectively. Many associates could also be found in the Boston office.
Strategy & Future
“We’re a firm with big aspirations,” confirms Conroy, before adding: “We are advisers to disruptors, but we’re also trying to be a positive disruptor in our own industry.” The firm’s strategy growth strategy "will continue to be tailored to our clients’ evolving needs: we are expanding our public and private company capabilities and continuing to invest in our regulatory, cyber, and fintech practices, among other areas,” revealed Conroy. Geographically, “we expanded our LA presence by opening a downtown LA location and continue to grow our new office in Chicago. We are also adding key talent to our offices across Asia, especially in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as in our European offices.” Conroy notes that after the challenges posed by the pandemic, the firm is now navigating the situations created by rising interest rates and the conflict in Ukraine, but is confident Cooley will remain steadfast in a fluctuating economy: “I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and in times of turbulence we have always succeeded. Even in a down economy we invest in our people and practices – we will be expanding our presence where the most innovative, high growth companies are thriving.”
Most of the juniors on our list (just over 70%) were based in the broad business practice, while the remainder were in Cooley’s overarching litigation department. Both of these expansive practices contain many subgroups. In business, most were classed as general corporate associates, which was a major plus for our sources: “It’s worth emphasizing that at Cooley you have three years to do anything you want on the corporate side!” Some attorneys choose to remain as generalists, whilst others pick a specialism. General corporate newbies start off with a workflow coordinator and gradually move to being assigned work by partners as they establish familiar working relationships. Some juniors did note that “staffing could be improved with more people dedicated to allocation,” but many we spoke with were positive about hopping onto matters more organically as they gained experience.
On the corporate side, “emerging companies work is Cooley’s bread and butter!” Associates can cover everything between early and late-stage fundraising rounds and can sample deals from both the investor and company side. Emerging companies work gives juniors the opportunity to work on matters tied to areas like sports tech, clean tech, and clean energy among others. These sectors are also reflected on the “M&A side, where it’s almost exclusively been clean tech deals and acquisitions for electric vehicles and life sciences companies.” Associates noted a fair amount of public company work in the mix as well. Tasks included drafting ancillaries on deals and even being able to “help negotiate the investor documents!” A decent amount of client contact can be expected as juniors “facilitate diligence processes and disclosure schedules. We conduct Q&A sessions with CEOs where they read the documents and ensure that everything is true in its entirety. Working on the investor side is the same, as we conduct the diligence to make sure what they’re saying is true as well.” Throughout the process “folks are reaching out with questions, and we match them with the appropriate person to answer them – we make sure things don’t fall through the gaps.”
Corporate clients: Netflix, Uber, Zoom. Advised Zoom on its $14.7 billion agreement to acquire Five9.
At the time of our calls, the litigation group was shifting to a more coordinated allocation system where “you can flag if you’re busy or need help, so whenever someone needs to staff a team they’ll reach out to the coordinators.” The group hasn’t always incorporated a work coordinator, as one insider told us: “When I first started a coordinator would have been helpful, but now we have one it has really changed the system – I’m definitely busy, but it’s a healthy busy.” As with the corporate group, “there’s still some amount of organic work allocation, too.” This litigator commented: “As time has gone on, I’ve made connections and opportunities have grown. Over time you might focus on an area if you’re particularly interested in a field, but one of the draws of litigation is that it is very generalized – people do a good mix of everything.”
A case in point: “I’m working on SEC and false claims matters, but trademark cases are relatively common in our practice as well.” We were also told about the group’s “burgeoning appellate practice,” on top of some amicus briefing matters and antitrust cases. The disputes here can span all stages of resolution: “We cover the cases that are filed in court, as well as pre-litigation stages and regulatory action.” We were told that the Palo Alto office excels at securities and SEC investigations, while San Francisco has a good number of tech clients that require work on privacy, employment, and general business disputes. With some variation in office specialties, sources appreciated being able to work on cross-office cases. Typical junior tasks were similar across the board, with sources noting their contributions to discovery processes and drafting on briefs. For the most part, “it’s not so hierarchical when it comes to who does what.” Understandably, “there is a lot of research and doc review when you first start,” one junior explained, “but it’s really changed a lot – now I’m working on a lot of depositions and doing the prep work for them.” Juniors can even find themselves drawn into investigations where “a lot of what we’re doing is developing witness outlines and helping with witness interviews!”
Litigation clients: Kardashian-Jenner family, Google, Sony Electronics. Successfully defended the Kardashian-Jenner family against defamation and intentional interference claims brought by Blac Chyna.
Our interviewees were keen to tell us about Cooley’s approach to training. The slickly dubbed ‘Cooley College’ program ensures that incoming juniors aren’t “frontloaded with lots of training in the first couple of weeks.” Instead, the first week is dedicated to outlining the basics of matter processes, while subsequent weekly sessions delve further into specifics. The set-up means that “across the year you learn a mixture of professional and more practical skills,” with certain sessions devoted to market trends and utilizing management tools. There’s also an online repository of resources to support both the core training program and on-the-job learning. On that note, “most associates have a partner who they primarily report to who basically acts as a mentor,” one junior explained, “and most teams make sure juniors have opportunities to learn as a case goes on – they'll have you observing depositions; actually talking to clients; and discussing the strategy behind information in a brief.”
“Becoming special counsel is definitely attainable.”
Looking ahead, sources noted a high level of loyalty to the firm. “As far I know, there’s only been one departure in my department since I’ve been here, and that person left to go to a government position,” said one litigator. Another told us that “almost all the people I work with have been with Cooley since they summered here or lateralled over as a junior – I can only think of one person who’s left for another firm and it’s more common for corporate lawyers here to move in-house.” Interviewees weren’t entirely sure what the path to partnership looked like. “Becoming special counsel is definitely attainable,” an associate informed us, “and there’s a lot more interest in that position than there has been in the past.”
Cooley hits the sweet spot when it comes to class sizes: “There are a number of juniors, but not so many that we feel like cogs on a wheel!” one junior exclaimed, before adding: “Juniors are given far more responsibility than you’d expect, so you learn a lot in a short period of time.” Cooley’s erosion of “that rigid divide between juniors, senior associates and partners” was felt to be a distinctive feature of the firm’s culture across the offices: “If it’s something more in my wheelhouse then seniors will ask me for my input, in the same way that I ask them questions.” Beyond this, we were told the culture can be “practice-specific to some extent, in that certain personalities are attracted to different groups. For example, in an area like emerging companies, we’re not trying to work on a $75 bajillion deal, so it’s relatively laid back!” There was, however, a prevailing sense that Cooley is governed by “a very West Coast attitude,” which means “people don’t take themselves too seriously and aren’t super formal.”
“A lot of our events have some sort of fun food theme to them.”
On the social side, a few juniors told us that there’s “still a struggle to get people to go to the office as much as they’d like,” but nonetheless there were locations with robust social cultures. Chicago, for example, was flagged as a new office with a lot going on, including weekly lunches, happy hours, and regular DE&I events. San Francisco, meanwhile, is “a foodie office! A lot of our events have some sort of fun food theme to them.” Down in sunny San Diego “they encourage us to get to know our co-workers, and sometimes there are even too many events!” a source quipped. “It might be a function of being in San Diego, but a colleague in another office has said the same thing about the culture!”
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Billable hours: 1,950 target
The firm expects everyone to be in the office at least three days a week - every office does free lunch once a week. Associates’ experience of working hours was generally positive, but interviewees (especially those in corporate) made it clear that their schedules were somewhat subject to the whims of the market. Hitting the billable target each year also “depends on the economy – on the corporate side we’ve been a bit slower because the markets have been slow.” Despite this, there must be plenty of work to go around, as we heard that “it’s normal for a first-year associate to bill somewhere between 1,950 and 2,050 hours.” For a litigator, that looked like putting in a “pretty reasonable 40 hours a week” to get to the bonus threshold. Sources were full of praise for the way in which partners handled their hours: “When it’s a deal closing we’re providing client service at the end of the day, so it does get busy and you do need to be on it – but partners do understand we have lives outside of work!”
On top of unlimited pro bono hours (see below), attorneys can bill up to 50 hours of shadow time and a max of 50 hours for firm citizenship activities – these may include diversity, equity & inclusion leadership, contributing to firm publications, internal training, and pitches. The firm also gives seven hours of credit for time spent volunteering. All combined, individuals are eligible to receive up to 107 hours of billable credit annually.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 95,365
- Average per (US) attorney: 79
All pro bono hours count towards the bonus threshold: “There’s no cap!” a satisfied associate told us. “I think I probably billed around 30% of my hours on pro bono last year and some of the cases I was staffed on were very big.” Interviewees found that they could provide a helping hand to emerging non-profit organizations: “We help folks who have an idea about how they want to add impact in their community, so we make sure they have all the appropriate documents they need.”
“The resources are poured in.”
The firm also represents those impacted by domestic crime and abuse via the New York office’s partnership with Safe Horizon. In addition, Cooley has partnered up with the non-profit Together We Rise to improve the lives of foster children across the US. Immigration, voting rights, criminal rights and asylum cases are also handled by Cooley’s attorneys. “The resources are poured in,” concluded one source. “We have a handful of partners who manage pro bono, and it’s really encouraged – I had weeks where I was too busy with pro bono to take on standard billable work!”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Cooley’s approach to DE&I was felt to be driven in large part by the firm’s affinity groups, which include those for Asian Pacific Islander; Black, LGBTQ+; Latinx; and women attorneys, as well as those for caregivers and veterans. In addition, “the DE&I committee hosts a lunch where they bring in food from different cultures to support small businesses,” said one San Diego junior. “They also bring in speakers and do a lot of unconscious bias training, which I’ve really enjoyed. They are invested and working on it.”
“...it shows the firm is putting its money where its mouth is.”
Cooley’s efforts on the recruitment front were also praised, but associates did note that “higher up the chain you don’t see too much diversity – that’s an issue that will play out over the next five to ten years.” Cooley’s DE&I Action Plan does address the retention and promotion of a diverse workforce: it has set out the intention to achieve a split of 35% women in the partnership by 2026, alongside a 32% representation of diverse lawyers and a 37% representation of diverse managers and directors. Some of our sources were happy that they could count 50 hours of DE&I work as billable (“it shows the firm is putting its money where its mouth is”) while others felt they could go even further: “People have asked for the cap on DE&I hours to be higher.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,430
Interviewees outside OCI: 76
Cooley casts a wide net for its OCIs: the over 40 law schools it visits annually include both top-tier institutions and schools local to the firm's offices. It also takes a more personal approach to recruitment via practice-specific resume collections from certain schools. Plus, the firm hires promising 1Ls through their 1L Diversity Fellowship and Patent Law programs.
Interviews aren't 'office specific'. For example, the firm says: “A student in San Francisco may meet with a partner from New York – all our interviewers are well versed in the unique qualities of each of our offices.” The criteria at this stage are a genuine interest in and understanding of Cooley's culture and practice. Interviews will focus on the competencies of the candidate, who must be honest about their own goals and interests and genuinely enthusiastic about joining Cooley.
“They make no secret that it's behavioral interviewing, and they also evaluate whether they can socialize with the person professionally and whether the candidate is presentable and potentially easy-going with a client.” – a junior associate
“I think having a good understanding of the tech ecosystem, especially in New York, would help. Being actively interested and up to date on startup ties into the larger theme of showing interest in the type of work we do.” – a junior associate
Applicants invited to second stage: 368
The firm's legal talent team virtually greets callback interviewees prior to their meetings with five to seven lawyers total; there's also (where possible) a virtual coffee or lunch with two junior associates. Interviewers will vary in seniority and practice area, based on the candidate's stated interests – the firm “always asks if there are specific types of individuals you'd like to meet during your visit.”
Competencies remain central to this interview stage. Cooley follows behavioral interviewing techniques, “assigning each interviewer a specific topic to establish if the candidate possesses the traits that we find work best for Cooley teams.” Impressing at this stage requires research into the firm's practice, asking candid questions and making sure you know your goals and that they align with those of the firm.
“Compared to other firms people have to be very practical and have a certain maturity: we work with a lot of smaller companies who don't want a memo – they want practical advice.” – a junior associate
“Cooley tries to find people who are people and not just lawyers. It's about finding out whether or not you're a well-rounded person with interests outside academics.” – a junior associate
Eschewing a formal rotation system, Cooley has its assignment coordinators meet regularly with summer associates to ensure they're getting a taste of everything they're interested in within their practice group. They also each get an associate and partner mentor, and 'comprehensive' training sessions including mini 'Cooley College' sessions throughout the summer. Cooley also gives formal feedback to its summer associates once they’ve completed each assignment and via mid and end-of-summer sessions.
“An entrepreneurial mindset” will serve summer associates well, as those who seize the chance to guide their experience will thrive. Cooley is looking for summers “to take ownership and inspire confidence,” as the majority will return to the firm as juniors and will have decided on their area of practice by that stage.
Notable summer events: Assortment of cooking classes from the “Truffle Shuffle” to chocolate making and cheese tastings, a mixology class, a murder mystery, a floral arrangement class and a variety of happy hours and other opportunities for summer associates to meet informally with our lawyers. (Office Dependent)
“The best way to approach the summer is to try and figure out if you're interested in certain things, if there's someone you really want to work with to get a taste of that and just meet people. Figuring out if you like the people and would be happy to spend late nights with them in the office is most important.” – a junior associate
At interview “it shines through when you are genuine and enthusiastic about where you see yourself and why, and it provides for genuine conversation.” – the firm
3175 Hanover Street,
Main areas of work
Advertising, antitrust and competition, appellate, artificial intelligence, asset recovery, blockchain, capital markets, class actions, commercial litigation, communications, compensation and benefits, copyright, corporate, corporate restructuring and bankruptcy, cyber/data/privacy, debt finance, education, emerging companies, employment and labor, estate planning, financial services, fintech, fund formation, government contracts, healthcare, intellectual property, international anti-corruption/FCPA, international arbitration, investment funds, life sciences, M&A, patent counseling and prosecution, patent litigation, private equity, product compliance and product liability, public companies, real estate, regulatory, securities and governance, securities litigation, shareholder activism, social enterprise and impact investing, tax, technology transactions, trade secrets, trademark, venture capital, virtual and augmented reality, white collar defense and investigations.
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. 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.
OCI Law Schools & Job Fairs attending in 2023:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington University, Harvard, Howard, Northwestern, NYU, Santa Clara, Stanford, University of Chicago, U. of Colorado, U. of Denver, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, University of San Diego, University of Virginia, University of Washington, Vanderbilt, Washington University-St. Louis, William & Mary, Yale, Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Loyola Patent Job Fair, Lavender Law Fair.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Interested students are also welcome to send in their applications outside of the OCI process. For a list of legal talent career contacts by office, please visit: cooley.com/careers.
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 diverse 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 throughout the summer. 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.
Recruitment website: www.cooley.com/careers
Linkedin: Cooley LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Technology: Transactions (Band 2)
- Venture Capital (Band 1)
California: Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
California: San Diego
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Regulatory (Band 2)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 3)
- Capital Markets (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 1)
- Technology (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Capital Markets: Convertible Debt (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 5)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Privacy & Data Security: Litigation (Band 1)
- Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Regulatory (Band 1)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- SPACs (Band 3)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
- Tax: Controversy (Band 5)
- Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)