“Pick any big tech company and they’re probably a Cooley client… we’re shaping the future.” Cool, cool, cool!
CATCHING up with your aunt over Facebook? Hitching an Uber home after a wild night? Researching law firms with Google? Better extend your thanks to Cooley – the firm has helped all these companies and more. Renowned for its startup practice, Cooley’s top-ranked by Chambers USA for venture capital, life sciences and startups; the firm also earns regional rankings reflecting its practice of taking an idea from someone’s garage to its big-money IPO and beyond. “Cooley deals with cutting-edge clients, and that makes the work so exciting,” associates declared. It’s not just startups they’re talking about – in life sciences, the firm’s at the “forefront of the new and exciting field of biosimilar drugs.”
Unlike at many firms where the “Silicon Valley offices are satellites,” Cooley started in Palo Alto, and that office remains its “main hub.” Additional bases in Boston, Colorado, DC, Los Angeles, New York, Reston (Virginia), San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle also recruit junior associates. You’ll also find six Cooley offices overseas; the most recent, Singapore, opened in January 2020.
Strategy & Future
Our junior sources predicted that “more expansion may be in the works,” but given “fears about a potential recession” there were qualifiers that any approach would be built around “healthy growth.” Several Cooley offices have recently welcomed high-profile lateral recruits, most notably Andrew Goldstein (a lead prosecutor on the Special Counsel team investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election) in a big coup for the New York and DC teams. One source added that Cooley is looking to diversify “the types of cases it takes on. I think it wants to bring in more securities litigation and white-collar work.”
“More expansion may be in the works.”
Over half of juniors on our list were in Cooley’s corporate collective; business litigation is the second-biggest group; followed by IP litigation, technology transactions and some smaller departments. Work allocation varies by office: most have their own staffing coordinators, though some smaller bases including Colorado are “very much eat what you kill” (we also heard that associates are often staffed on client-specific teams in smaller offices). There was no FOMO to be found here: sources liked that “you can regulate your schedule when you’re the master of your workflow.”
Corporate associates dealt with a tide of work across fund formations, M&A, capital markets, venture capital and “general corporate advice for startup clients.” VC is a Cooley trademark – the firm was involved in the first venture capital partnership in the US back in 1958, and today represents over 6,000 emerging firms including “40% of the companies on the Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club list.” Cross-office staffing is common, but some locations have their own niche: the Boston base is “really well known for life sciences and private equity practices,” and San Francisco does “lots of startup venture capital and capital markets deals, as well as IPOs in the tech space.” The firm’s future-facing practice handles innovations ranging from blockchain to dating apps. Sources explained that “as a junior you’re more generalized and you can do all varieties of work; as you get more senior, you specialize. I like the diversity of the practice.” Diverse tasks for juniors include due diligence, governance documents, SEC filings and negotiating with opposing counsel. When companies make it to the IPO stage, the Cooley team sticks around to help them out.
Corporate clients: Snapchat, Goldman Sachs, DraftKings. Advised Uber on its $8.1 billion IPO, the third-largest American tech IPO in history.
“Whatever work there is to do, they’ll let you handle it no matter what level you’re at.”
Breach of contract, copyright, class action, employment arbitration and trade secrets cases all have a place in Cooley's litigation practice. “We do a lot of disputes for our tech corporate clients as well as general consumer complaints,” insiders revealed. San Francisco is the best place to be for data privacy cases, whereas the team in New York “does a lot of securities litigation, which you don’t see as much of in other offices. Some partners do legal malpractice defenses for other law firms and there’s a lot of criminal work out of this office too.” Enjoying being able to boast about working with “cool companies like Google and Facebook,” juniors were also in high spirits about “getting responsibility early on. Whatever work there is to do, they’ll let you handle it no matter what level you’re at.” Interviewees variously got to attend trials, with some even arguing in court and writing drafts themselves; they clarified that “we get supervision and feedback from partners and they’ve helped me learn from doing really substantive work.”
Litigation clients: Google, Bloomberg, Art.com. Represented Sony in a $5 million+ class action suit alleging that a firmware update left the ‘Dash’ device unusable.
Palo Alto is the firm’s hub for IP matters whether they’re software, hardware or medical in nature, but staffing is a cross-office affair and other locations get their fair share of this juicy area of law. For example, the Reston team “focuses a lot on the medical device space,” while the DC office also has a sizable IP offering. Interviewees noted that Cooley doesn’t require IP associates to arrive with as much scientific know-how as some other firms, and that’s not the only way it stands out from the crowd. “I arrived wanting to go to court and do a deposition, and got to do both easily,” said one source who was very impressed with their responsibility level. “The lawyer on the other side was much more experienced and it was their first deposition too.” Like other dispute types, IP litigation requires “a lot of writing” in the form of basic motions, discovery responses and requests. Legal research, document review and discovery were also required. “You’re staffed on cases and then everything’s yours to deal with,” we heard. “When you’re getting close to trial and the partners are asking what we have and need, you see the value of that.”
IP clients: Bumble, WhatsApp, Oculus VR. Obtained full dismissal for BitTorrent in a patent infringement suit brought by Reigntek.
A firm’s clients can have a big effect on its culture, and Cooley’s roots in Silicon Valley correspond to a younger, fresher feel than at some of its rival firms. Facetime requirements are less strict, and the firm’s dress code has kept with the times. As one associate put it: “If you’re meeting a company founder who’s 25, dressed in jeans, you really don’t need to wear a suit.” A source in Colorado joked that “Lululemon practically sponsors the firm, athletic leisurewear is really big here. Some partners dress up in jeans and button-down shirts, but many people are in T-shirts and sneakers rather than fancy tops and high heels.” While litigators should be ready to dress up for court, the folks at Cooley “rarely suit up” otherwise. The wonders of remote working mean that you can even get things done in pajamas from home: “I’ve heard from a couple of partners that it’s good to be in the office, but they don’t care much. If they call or email you and you’re responsive, it’s all good.”
“If you’re meeting a company founder who’s 25, dressed in jeans, you really don’t need to wear a suit.”
Several of our sources pinned down Cooley’s recruitment policy as the starting point of its culture. “It’s really important we get on with people when we go out for lunch,” juniors involved in the process told us. “If we say we don't like someone, the partners will reach out to us and find out why and they take that feedback very seriously.” Some compared the firm to someone unlucky in love who’d been burned before: “They’ve had some experience hiring jerks and it didn’t work out. You’ve got to be nice to everyone.” Meeting this requirement isn’t too hard in practice, as ‘nice’ came down to “not throwing staplers or screaming. The culture is very cooperative and people are always reaching out if they have questions.” Cooley’s keep cool approach extends to partners, many of whom send out “practice-wide emails with guidance on issues surrounding what we do. Everyone’s so kind in the responses.”
Rather than any particular personality type, Cooley seeks associates who want to work at “the cutting edge. If a tech company has a question that’s novel, we take that on.” Sources took pride in their firm’s reputation for forward-facing practice, admitting that “the prestige was definitely part of the reason I wanted to work here.” They weren’t, on the other hand, looking for party central – but interviewees were pleased to find that Cooley “runs an event every week or so. People do socialize and like to hang out with one another.” The few complaints we heard came from the busiest interviewees: “Cooley has a great culture that’s being eroded by the volume of work that’s coming in,” they argued.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target (includes uncapped pro bono, up to 50 hours shadowing and up to 50 hours of designated diversity and inclusion activities)
Our sources unanimously agreed they had “no problem meeting hours,” with 12-hour days and weekend work the norm. “It feels like I’ve worked most weekends,” one associate grumbled, agreeing with others that the “hours required at Cooley aren’t awesome, it can be problematic for us.” Pushed for a number, another insider estimated that “20% of the time it’s surprising just how much work comes in.” Corporate associates had the toughest time of it; we heard that “specialist teams have more of a work/life balance. Unless you’re a tax specialist – they’re underwater.” IPOs can also be a sink-or-swim affair – “during an IPO I’ll work every night and every weekend.” Others told us “the pace of it became unsustainable,” but credited the firm with “explicit instructions not to staff me on anything crazy afterwards. I’m now bring protected, Cooley insists you recover after the most intense periods.” We heard that the firm does support flexible and part-time schedules too, however: those who opt to go part-time can choose how much they would like to reduce their hours by (between 50% and 80% of their full-time schedule) and have their billing target and base salary pro-rated. There's also a 'true-up' policy which bumps up compensation if part-time attorneys bill more than their reduced target.
“Cooley insists you recover after the most intense periods.”
Despite their workloads, our insiders liked that everyone across the firm – irrespective of location – gets paid the same New York market-matching first-year salary. Bonuses are individualized and discretionary: “As first years things are really transparent because everyone gets $15,000 as long as they hit their hours. After that, things get more complicated.” The firm tells us that it looks at the Cravath/Milbank scale for bonus payouts; those who meet the target and class-year expectations in their reviews can score a market-rate bonus or better (up to 50% better, in fact).
Career Development & Diversity
New arrivals at the firm enroll in Cooley College, which provides an initial five-day series of events including specific sessions for associates in the business and litigation departments. Next come mid-level and senior associate academies: “Learning at the junior end is more skills-focused. The firm invests heavily in you being a good lawyer academically and then moves to the business side.” One source also mentioned that if there were specific conferences you want to attend, “Cooley is happy to make that happen. They’ll pay for you to travel wherever you need.”
“The firm is trying to foster growth from within.”
Put it all together and you’ve got a recipe for associates who want to stick around long-term, with the skills to do so. Many suggested that “the firm is trying to foster growth from within, rather than just bringing in lateral partners from outside,” and equally qualified that “supervisors at Cooley are good at signaling early if they want you to stay long-term. If that’s not your path, they’ll help you with whatever is.” Sadly, some feared that “it may not be sustainable for female attorneys to stick around here." While hardly unique to Cooley, this is still an issue that needs addressing – positive steps include a gender-neutral parental leave policy that consists of 12 weeks paid leave for the birth parent/adoptive parent/caregiver, followed by eight weeks' disability leave. Expectant mothers/caregivers can also utilize Cooley's ‘ramp’ up and down policy; this comes into play for anyone who takes 12 consecutive weeks of leave and reduces hours by 30% in the month before someone goes on leave and for three months after they return to work. However, some fears remained that “hitting the targets set might not be feasible.” The firm did tell us that over the past couple of years several women have made partner having recently just had a child or while preparing to have a child in their first year of partnership.
One target that interviewees did not have problems with was the firm’s 60-hour pro bono goal for all associates. “You’re encouraged to take it on, and every partner I’ve worked for has proactively inquired about the pro bono I’m doing and is interested in the cases.” Cooley puts no limit on how many hours can count toward the billable hours target, backing up the consensus among associates that “the firm is really proud of the pro bono work it does.” Common causes at Cooley include domestic abuse litigation projects, immigration disputes, and “corporate governance work with environmental NGOs” on the transactional end. The firm also works with veterans, the LGBT community and the homeless.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 53,992.5
- Average per (US) attorney: 60.6
- The first two weeks of Cooley's 2020 summer program will be done virtually. If restrictions allow, the firm will move the program into offices in early July. If not, the full six weeks (reduced from ten) will run remotely.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,401
Interviewees outside OCI: 55
Cooley casts a wide net for its OCIs: the over 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 certain schools with a particular expertise, plus one-off 1L hires for individuals in whom the firm has seen early promise as part of its regular presence at certain schools for the firm's 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 a lot of it is evaluating whether they can socialize with the person professionally and whether the candidate is presentable and potentially easygoing 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 startups ties into the larger theme of showing interest in the type of work we do.” – a junior associate
Applicants invited to second stage: 529
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.
“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. 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
“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 provides for genuine conversation.” – the firm
Interview with chair and CEO Joe Conroy
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position to our student readers?
Joe Conroy: Our mission is to be both elite and distinctive from every perspective – from our culture to our client positioning. We are aggressively growing but with a conservative approach to debt, as we do not borrow. And we are proud to say that we have been able to grow significantly from a revenue perspective.
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently?
JC: Last year and into the first quarter of 2020, our core practices of fund formation and capital markets did really well. We were the number one firm for IPOs and did the IPOs for some seriously visible clients, including Levi’s, Uber and Zoom.
Last year was a monster year for our M&A department; we did billion-dollar, market-leading deals. It was a historic year in terms of number of deals and deal value.
On the litigation side, business and securities litigation matters were big, and there was a lot of demand for cyber/data/privacy expertise.
CA: Which practices and sectors have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
JC: Life sciences and healthcare innovation. We have a growing practice in biotech, and I think we will see continued growth on the M&A side.
In litigation, I think cyber/data/privacy will grow. It is a market niche that keeps us more than busy no matter how many people we hire. Securities and commercial litigation are always strong, and we have invested really heavily in white-collar defense and investigations.
The Asia region has also been a big area of growth for the firm.
CA: How do you think Covid-19 will impact on your business?
JC: What we are planning for is a macroeconomic climate that is more depressed over the last couple of quarters as a best-case scenario. One of the things we have done over the course of time is to build our firm to be resistant to different climates and to succeed in downturns. We have balance in litigation and in business. When work is scarcer, all the partners act as hunter-gatherers. We have intentionally built a practice that is broad – we do a number of different things, and if we are slow in one area, we have cover because we are busy in another.
Over the last four or five years, we have moved ourselves closer to the feed end of the trough. We are among the best firms in the world, and so we are competing for the work better than we were. Five years ago we were not competing with the top firms for capital markets work and now we are.
CA: Have there been any particular developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
JC: We are really proud of the fact that we are staying on top of (and being leaders on) how we manage our workforce. In the D&I space, we are developing a leadership position because being substantially more diverse and inclusive is not a 'nice to have' – it is a must have. The great firms of the next generation have to be diverse, otherwise they will not survive. We have made a lot of progress: our 2020 partnership class was half women and half men for the first time in our history.
Our leadership is increasingly diverse, and this is something we have been working on over the last decade. We have been creating accountability to ensure we are creating the kind of diversity we want to see.
Two months ago, we gave a special allotment of billable hours for diversity projects. All of our lawyers can now put 50 billable hours toward diversity projects. I was speaking at an event recently, and I said that “success for me would be doing 50 great hours on this.” We are the leaders in the D&I space.
We have also introduced policies to better manage our human capital, including a policy to accommodate attorneys who are working on a reduced schedule. For example, if we have lawyers who are working 80% and getting paid 80%, then if they have done more we bump it [the base salary] up.
We also have 'ramp down' and 'ramp up' policies that can apply to those on caregiver leave. We are market leaders in parental leave for all caregivers, and we have systems in place to encourage this.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?
JC: We want to continue progressing to be one of the great firms of the next generation. I think there will be two or three great firms in the next generation (and they will not necessarily be the same as this generation’s great firms) and I want us to be in that hunt.
Rapid growth is a threat to culture, and culture is a real central thesis in our daily lives. I want us to keep our culture. I think we have changed the way that BigLaw firms use space and we have shifted the work dynamic. The way you survive generationally is by successfully making the transition from the old to the new – and you need a space that maximizes that. I want us to be the thought leader in that area.
I think our footprint is not complete, but it is substantially complete. I would not expect to see us in new markets unless those markets are key markets.
3175 Hanover Street,
- Head Office: Palo Alto, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $1.33 billion
- Partners (US): 350
- Associates (US): 750
- Main recruitment contact:
- Carrie Wagner, Chief Legal Talent Officer (email@example.com)
- Diversity officers: TJ Graham, Partner Amie Santos, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 77
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020:
- 1Ls: 10, 2Ls: 89, SEO: 1, Google Legal Summer Scholar: 1 Law in Tech Diversity Collaborative: 1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office:
- Boston: 12, Colorado: 2, Los Angeles: 4, New York: 20, Palo Alto: 24, Reston: 3, San Diego: 7, San Francisco: 16, Seattle: 1, Washington DC, 13
- Summer salary 2020:
- 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 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.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
Please refer to the Events portion of our website for a list of the job fairs and campuses we will visit during the 2020 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: www.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 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.
Recruitment website: www.cooley.com/careers
Linkedin: Cooley LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- 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)
California: San Diego
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Regulatory (Band 2)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 4)
- Capital Markets (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
- Technology (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Venture Capital: Fund Formation (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Privacy & Data Security (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 5)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Corporate/Commercial (Band 2)