Cooley LLP - The Inside View

Fancy learning about the technology of tomorrow before anyone else? A career at Cooley will get you up to speed in no time...

WHAT could be cooler than being Cooley? Born in the Bay Area like many of its tech and startup clients, the firm has a network of offices spanning the country from Palo Alto to Boston and internationally from London to Beijing. Recognizing Cooley's work for the mega-companies of today (Facebook, Nintendo, Uber) and tomorrow (better let Cooley tell you who they are), Chambers USA places the firm top of the table nationwide for venture capital investment funds, life sciences, emerging companies and startup representation work.

“The clients were the first thing that stood out to me” was a common opening statement during our interviews, with this source adding: “There's a real emphasis on the cutting edge and growing industries here.” Have a Google (another client) of the Wall Street Journal's Billion Dollar Startup Club and you'll find that 40% of the companies listed have employed Cooley's services. Growth industries aren't the only things expanding in Cooley's sphere though, as the firm itself broke the $1 billion revenue mark in 2017. What better way to celebrate than to relocate its New York office to the shiny new tech haven that is the Hudson Yards development in Manhattan?

The Work

Around a quarter of the associates on our list had joined the firm's litigation wing, while the rest had entered the firm's 'business' transactional department (the majority start out as corporate generalists). Some of the firm's specialty teams include IP litigation, life sciences and technology transactions. Work assignment in those niches “is more a case of people informally just walking into your office, and vice versa,” whereas the official assignment coordinators have more of a presence in both the generalist litigation and corporate teams. Even so, “it's still a collaborative process” in those areas, and interviewees found the assignment system to be “more flexible than it is at some other firms. Nobody will get upset if you go looking for work yourself.” Some found this hodgepodge of free market and central assignment “a bit of a scramble” when they first arrived, “but since then it's been a pretty good process that's proven to be the best of both worlds.”

The general corporate team “breaks down into three areas that all new first-years are expected to participate in”: capital markets, emerging companies and M&A. Thanks to this setup juniors saw “everything across the life cycle of a company, from formation to venture capital financing to exit events.” The life sciences subgroup keeps juniors busy with IP licensing for biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Cooley represents both wide-eyed startups and the established success stories with billion-dollar financing behind them. Palo Alto is obviously a startup hub, and Boston does more life sciences and healthcare work for local clients, but the full breadth of Cooley's practice is available in most offices. All the way over in New York, for instance, “the tech ecosystem has grown so it's not just traditional finance or media matters.”

“I've had a lot of client contact – and the clients are around the same age as me!”

On matters for clients already making the big bucks, juniors had “a more structured role managing the due diligence process, but we sometimes get to help draft ancillary documents. That may not sound instantly great but it's all a stepping stone!” Sources had more fun working with emerging companies. “One of the main reasons I came here was to do early-stage tech work and get tons of responsibility,” one told us. “I've had a lot of client contact – and the clients are around the same age as me!” Even on bigger deals all the way up to “a billion-dollar M&A matter,” juniors got “responsibility for whole disclosure schedules” and direct client interaction.

Corporate clients: Uber, Time Inc. and Etsy. Represented online property marketplace Opendoor during its $325 million financing, which will hopefully facilitate the aim to grow the site to 50 markets by 2020's close.

Breach of contract, copyright, class action, employment arbitration and trade secrets cases all have a place in Cooley's litigation practice. The Palo Alto HQ is “well known for securities litigation,” whereas the team in San Francisco “gets a lot of the privacy work.” New York offers more traditional Big Apple-style disputes in the fields of insurance, life sciences and tech; several offices also have a full-time IP litigation team tackling patent disputes of various flavors, including those involving software and life sciences dimensions. “Legal research is always important” in the development of a junior litigator, and most found that “even in the first year there wasn't much document review – I tended to supervise teams. There's also been some substantive writing experience, including drafting whole motions.” Overall, interviewees were full of praise for Cooley's approach to building up juniors' experience levels. “Once partners sense you're ready for responsibility they'll throw you in the deep end – it can be sort of harrowing but people are there if you need them” on the more challenging projects.

Litigation clients: Google, Sony and Facebook. Defended Snapchat owner Snap in a suit brought by Vaporstream that listed nine alleged patent infringements related to e-messaging.

Pro Bono

“I don't think it's worth going to a firm that isn't serious about pro bono,” a Cooley insider told us, “especially if they cap hours, as that can hurt you professionally.” It's good news, then, that Cooley allows its associates to count every pro bono hour toward their billable target. “It's a lot easier in litigation to get pro bono, but recently there's been a lot of emphasis on creating corporate opportunities,” be they corporate governance matters for nonprofits or one-off projects procured from attending advisory clinics.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US offices: 50,466
  • Average per US attorney: 62

In Palo Alto, we heard that “the majority of cases are immigration-related,” but veterans' rights cases are on the increase; San Francisco interviewees, meanwhile, favored lending their services to local housing clinics. There's also pro bono on a national scale available: the firm filed a federal court complaint on behalf of 11 people injured in the Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally. That's an interesting array of matters, but at the same time interviewees felt that “Cooley isn't like some firms where you definitely need to mention pro bono when you're interviewing.”

Get Hired

“They make no secret of the fact that it's behavioral interviewing and a lot of it is about evaluating whether they could interact with the candidate professionally and socially.” Find out more about Cooley's recruitment process by clicking the 'Bonus Features' tab above.

Diversity & Inclusion

Recipients of the firm's diversity fellowship can spend their 1L and 2L summers with the firm and receive a total of $30,000 toward their law school tuition (the third and final $10,000 installment is paid when they join as an associate). Interviewees acknowledged that “Cooley has really made some efforts to recruit diverse candidates” but did feel that the firm “hasn't always been successful.” Both Cooley's women's initiative (which partly comprises of 'Connection Circles' in each office) and parents affinity group came in for praise, but there were calls for more to be done: “We've had a number of female senior associates make partner lately, but new partnership classes are still predominantly male even if the numbers coming in at a junior level are more equal.” Some optimistically concluded that “we've not yet seen the benefits of the firm's efforts. They're really trying to put a foot forward and the CEO talks about it all the time.”

“They're really trying to put a foot forward.”

Career Development

You won't find associates singing 'we don't need no education' at the beginning of their Cooley career: they were happy to enroll at Cooley College, which provides an initial five-day series of events that include specific sessions on business and litigation matters. Once school was out there was “more of a 'trial by fire' approach to learning” for many. “Especially in smaller groups there's more of an apprenticeship model. They're getting better at providing formal training.”

“There's a big push to tell us partnership is possible.”

Early client contact and the firm's rapid growth made many optimistic about their long-term prospects at Cooley. “I've only been here a year but partnership seems pretty achievable,” a New York source boldly declared. “There's a big push to tell us partnership is possible – though maybe I'm just being cocky!” Others noted that “there's been attrition” in their practices,with somereasoning that “we don't have a lot of senior associates in our group, which is probably a sign that a few of them leave!” They could take this as a positive, though: “One of the reasons I chose Cooley was because leaving isn't weird. Most associates I know who've left went in-house at startups or venture capital funds.” Given the firm's sector focuses and reputation, it was no surprise to hear that tech companies were the most common destination for those who had opted to go in-house.

Hours & Compensation

There were some strained laughs when talk turned to pay, as interviewees relayed that it's “one area that Cooley famously isn't very transparent about.” Bonuses are individualized and discretionary, and “the only part that's clear is if you don't make the 1,950 hours target you won't get one.” Sources did admit that “having more discretion allows for larger bonuses. A good percentage of us got above market, though others got below.”

The 1,950-hour associate billing target was “very achievable” for many, though reports from smaller practice groups were more mixed. “Getting to do substantive work is more important, and I'd rather get that quality,” one such junior relayed. Happy to declare that there's “no requirement for face time at all,” Palo Alto sources told us: “By 6pm almost every partner has gone home,” while in New York “the office quietens down by 6:30pm.” The busiest bees among our sources were in Boston, where we heard “an average day would be getting in around 8:30am and working until 7pm.” Many across the offices put in additional hours at home and confirmed that “Cooley's not a lifestyle firm: there's an understanding that 1,950 hours isn't enough to stand out.”


On the topic of socializing, it was a New Yorker who pointed out that “the trade off with not having a face time requirement is that people tend to enjoy their free time to themselves.” Their observation rang true with most of our interviewees, who agreed that “we're not hyper social but we make an effort to get together informally sometimes. There are some smaller groups that socialize a fair amount within their seniority level.” West Coasters had a sunnier view of things than their East Coast colleagues. “I think in Palo Alto we do socialize well – the weather's nice all year round and it's common to see everyone outside eating lunch from our cafeteria together.”

“There is more of a West Coast vibe compared to the New York Wall Street or conservative Boston-based firms.”

Californians had heard that “on the East Coast they tend to be in the office a lot more.” The interviewees actually based on the East Coast nonetheless felt that “there is more of a West Coast vibe compared to the New York Wall Street or conservative Boston-based firms.” A source in the latter city “liked that people had their priorities straight here. Boston bills higher than other offices but attorneys still care about the bigger picture and prioritize resources smartly.” As for New York, “there's a little bit of a 'tough it out' attitude but it's definitely not a meat grinder.” There's no need to spend big bucks on a suit, either, as “Cooley advertises and takes pride in its policy of allowing us to wear jeans to work.” It's clearly a popular approach: a Palo Alto junior had “never seen anyone wearing a suit to the office!”

Clothes don't tell the whole story though, and juniors had plenty of stories to prove it's not just a love for denim that makes Cooley cool. One recalled: “I was at the printers for a week during a filing and at one point I was definitely crashing, so the partner on the matter sent me home to get some sleep and told me to come back tomorrow. They do care about you as a person instead of viewing you just a cog in the system.” Insiders also told us: “It's very important when Cooley opens a new office that it's a cultural fit – they're not just looking to expand everywhere for the sake of it.”

Strategy & Future

Sources realistically reckoned that “the future will depend on the market,” but were confident “Cooley will continue to grow. The trajectory still seems to be upward because technology isn't going to fall away and clients will need our services.” Growth comes with consequences, though, and a few felt that “there's an inherent conflict between becoming a top firm and maintaining the more laid-back Cooley culture.” Then there's the issue of space: the Palo Alto and San Francisco offices are pretty crammed already and new arrivals have had to move into internal offices.

On the worldwide stage, “I've heard about plans to expand more into the Asian markets,” an informant shared, “Cooley already has a presence in them but I feel we'll be looking for more opportunities.” Find out more about the firm's plans for the future by clicking on the 'Bonus Features' tab above to read our interview with CEO Joe Conroy.

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 1,273Interviewees outside OCI: 32

Cooley casts a wide net for its OCIs: the 30 law schools it visits annually include both the 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 schools with a particular expertise, plus one-off 1L hires for individuals whom the firm has seen early promise as part of its regular presence at certain schools.

Interviews aren't 'office specific.' The firm gave this example to us: “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.

Top tips: “They make no secret that it's behavioral interviewing and a lot of it is evaluating whether they can socialize with the person professionally, and whether the candidate is presentable and potentially easy going with a client.”

“I think having a good understanding of the tech ecosystem, especially in New York, would help. Being actively interested and up to date on startups ties into the larger theme of showing interest in the type of work we do.”


Applicants invited to second stage: 466

The firm's legal talent team greets callback interviewees and guides them to the first of their meetings with five to seven lawyers total; there's also (where possible) a 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.

Top tips: “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.”

“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.”

Summer program

Offers: 136Acceptances: 71

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. They also each get a mentor, and “comprehensive” training sessions including an introductory retreat in Northern California. Cooley also gives formal feedback to its young charges 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: surfing; indoor skydiving; sailing, cooking classes; partner dinners.

Top tips: “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.”

And finally...

At interview “it shines through when you are genuine and enthusiastic about where you see yourself and why, and provides for genuine conversation.”

Interview with CEO Joe Conroy

Chambers Associate: Given the firm's rapid growth, it's probably best we start by asking how have things at Cooley developed over the past twelve months?

Joe Conroy: The past year has been terrific for us, and it is fair to say this will be another in a string of years where the firm will post record revenue and profits. We have also seen Cooley’s brand ascend to new heights. The successes we have achieved for our clients have been tremendous across the firm’s practices and around the world.

CA: What trends within the tech sphere have impacted the firm's practice?

JC: The entire cybersecurity and data privacy space has mushroomed across both our business and litigation sectors, and we have seen strong revenue growth there. Obviously, the advent of AI and seeing that come to life as a real concept has driven a lot of work for Cooley. We have been busy in many vertical sectors converging with technology.  Insurance and education in particular have been areas where our practices have boomed around that convergence. Beyond client work, there continues to be a boom in technology designed to assist firms and lawyers with service delivery, pricing and client communication, which is affecting the way we interact with clients.

CA: By the time our readers have this interview, the New York office will have relocated to Hudson Yards. What was the thinking behind the move?

JC: First and foremost, we wanted to be leaders, as we always do. In terms of geography, the developer of Hudson Yards is unabashed about trying to move the psychic heart of Manhattan from Rockefeller Center to Hudson Yards. Whether that happens or not, there's been a real shift of energy to that side of New York.

Our brand has ascended to the point where we are considered among the most elite, profitable and distinctive firms in the world. A big piece of this includes being consistently forward thinking and innovative. One of the advantages of this move is that it allows us to create a space that is efficient and enables us to handle new ways of working. The legal industry is dealing with an increasingly mobile workforce, with partners and associates out of the office more thanks to new tech. Our success as a law firm is wholly dependent on our ability to train the next generation on the art of practicing law, and the most effective way of doing that sort of training is in person. We have a unique opportunity at Hudson Yards to create a workspace that enables effective collaboration and optimizes the training experience.

CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to adapt to in the near future?

JC: There's some end in sight for big law firms' ability to continue raising their billing rate year over year at the pace we have seen over the last decade. Everyone is trying to lead the next generation of pricing models, and incorporating tech into the service model will be critical.

Firms will also have to deal with a generational workforce that wants different things and works in different ways. The firms that are more successful at recruiting and retaining high-level talent will be the ones that listen and adapt to workforce changes rather than jamming associates into a century-old model. Young people will want different ways of structuring their lives.

CA: What's next for Cooley? How much more expansion do you envisage?

JC: At the highest level, we strive to strengthen our recognition as an elite and distinctive firm – from a brand, practice area and financial standpoint. In many respects, we are already there, but there are some areas we have still got to build. Over a five-year period, most of our building will be within our key power centers – Silicon Valley and California; Boston, DC and New York; then London and, more broadly, Western Europe. Most of our building will be within those markets. We'll also be putting more time and attention into China and Asia, where we've had a lot of financial success on a limited scale. If we're comparing the last 10 years to the next 10, the shift will be from growth into new areas, to growth within our existing ones.

CA: How will the firm preserve its distinct culture with all this growth happening?

JC: It's a huge challenge that starts first and foremost with a recognition within the firm that preservation of culture is essential. If we're picking between protecting the culture and expansion, we'll pick culture every time because Being Cooley is a competitive differentiator for us. There's a broad recognition within Cooley that our culture is distinct, and we've grown rapidly and profitably not in spite of, but because of it. At the end of the day, what attracts folks is culture. Everyone has a different idea of what that means, but everyone would cite it as a reason they came to – and have stayed at – Cooley.

CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?

JC: While I was in law school I wasn't certain I would be a lawyer. One of the careers I considered going into was law enforcement. Making a last-minute decision, I ended up becoming a lawyer. I also had a background in software development, having started a run of small software companies. When I got started in law, I was representing similar tech firms. That experience has stayed with me to this day.

CA: What achievement are you most proud of?

JC: I'm not sure if it's an achievement per se, but when two partners here whom I love explained that I was going to take on this role of CEO, that – and the confidence the partnership placed in me – was the proudest moment of my career. The hardest parts of this job are the stress, lack of sleep and continual travel, but each day I have moments to reflect and be proud of what Cooley is achieving.

CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?

JC: First off, learn your craft. Wherever you are, become a great lawyer. At the end of the day, whether you choose to build a career in a big firm or not, you'll be better off for learning the art of practicing law. Secondly, be passionate about it because, in my experience, passion breeds success. Maybe the most important thing, though, is don't wait to lead. Ours is a human talent business with lots of great lawyers, and every year we at Cooley get the smartest students and laterals. But one thing that's perpetually in short supply – at all firms – is leadership, so don't wait. Step up and go for it.

Cooley LLP

3175 Hanover Street,
Palo Alto,
CA 94304-1130

  • Head Office: Palo Alto, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 5
  • Worldwide revenue: $1.23 billion
  • Partners (US): 330
  • Associates (US): 700
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: 
  • Carrie Wagner, Chief Legal Talent Officer (
  • Diversity officers: DeAnna Allen, Partner Frank Pietrantonio, Partner Amie Santos, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 63
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 
  • 1Ls: 8, 2Ls: 77, SEO: 1, Google Legal Summer Scholar: 1 Law in Tech Diversity Collaborative: 1
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
  • Boston: 8, Colorado: 2, Los Angeles: 4, New York: 12, Palo Alto: 22, Reston: 3, San Diego: 11, San Francisco: 12, Seattle: 2, Washington DC, 11
  • Summer salary 2019: 
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

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, insurance, 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 and regulatory defense.

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.

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 Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019: Please refer to the Events portion of our website for a list of the job fairs and campuses we will visit during the 2019 OCI season.

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:

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.

Social media:
Recruitment website:
Linkedin: Cooley LLP
Instagram: @cooley_llp
Twitter: @cooleycareers
Facebook: @CooleyLLP

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Venture Capital (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
    • Media & Entertainment: Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 1)
    • Technology (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Representation (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Representation (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration Recognised Practitioner
    • Investment Funds: Venture Capital: Fund Formation (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security (Band 2)
    • Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
    • Corporate/Commercial (Band 2)