This fresh-off-the-boat Californian tech and life sciences whizz is carving out a reputation in the City.
Cooley and the gang
“Heard about that new kid Cooley?” whisper London's legal locals (we imagine). “22% revenue growth in 2017, and now they're running with an ex-Skadden M&A partner. Stay sharp, boys.” Sweeping over from sunny California in 2015, Cooley snatched some corporate lawyers from Morrison & Foerster, and grabbed almost all of Edwards Wildman Palmer – together, these formed a new London front for the Silicon Valley smoothie. In the few short years since, London's headcount has risen by more than 50%, and the firm has nabbed a respectable number of rankings in Chambers UK for its public international law, insurance disputes and transactional life sciences work. Cooley's crew also work on general M&A, commercial litigation, IP and competition matters.
In part, London serves as a gateway to Europe for the firm's abundant American clients. With IP being a big strength in the US for example, London IP lawyers chip in to advise Twitter on its European trade mark matters. Heaps of similarly youthful, geeky tech work and a California-cool image proved attractive to the current cohort. So too did the fact Cooley “seemed to target clients who were not just large corporate giants. They nurture some smaller clients to become publicly listed companies." As for the future, growth in headcount is inevitable – London's managing partner wants the figure to hit 150 over the next few years. The firm has moved towards that goal by hiring a Hogan Lovells product litigation specialist, plus an international arbitration lawyer who formerly worked at the Canadian Trade Law Bureau.
Client secondments at Amazon were previously available, but “since the office is incredibly busy now and because of our small intake, the decision was made to have everyone at the firm." The firm told us the availability of client secondments is regularly reviewed, and associates do go on secondments. When it comes to getting their regular seats, trainees initially submit their preferences to the firm's trainee recruitment and legal talent manager, with places divvied out afterwards. "Everyone has generally been happy," said one source, "but the process could be more open.” One source of annoyance was that "the available seats were only confirmed after we had been consulted. It would have been better to do the reverse." Split seats are an option; however, one trainee warned that “when you're working for three people and everyone gives you a medium-sized task you end up with a busy day."
The NQ process caused gripes too. “Obviously if you have six people applying for a small specialist team there will be a small informal process, but if it's only one person applying the team may just take them on." Although confident places would be available for them, trainees had a "big gripe with transparency. We have to submit our options without having any visibility of where the jobs are or what the process is for obtaining them.” The firm explained the rationale behind the system is that partners want trainees who are genuinely excited by an area, rather than just people who are applying because there's an opening. In the end all three qualifiers stayed on in 2018.
In Lehman's terms
Cooley's insurance litigation team offers a seat with a "focus on black letter law and legal arguments rather than commercial dealing.” It does that by working on insurance and reinsurance disputes, with expertise in insolvency and insurance run-off. The firm recently advised PwC on disputes that arose from the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, where PwC acted as the liquidators of the reinsurance arm of Lehman Brothers, Lehmans Re. Insurers Hiscox and AXA, along with trade body Lloyd's Market Association, are clients too. Cases here aren't short, "so you're dipping in for six months into matters that have been going for six years. This helps as you need more background knowledge than in commercial litigation. The longer deadlines mean there's time to get to grips with the area." To ensure everyone knows what's going on, trainees told us: "There was a lot more research and memo writing on very technical questions." Juniors had also filed court forms and written the odd insurance-themed blog post.
By contrast, commercial litigation is "less cerebral,” meaning "fewer research memos and instead a focus on drafting correspondence and various instructions." This seat provided a greater variety of work: there's product compliance and liability work, general commercial litigation, plus asset recovery (the process of recovering funds that have been misappropriated through bribes or corruption). On that front the team recently worked for the Government of Bermuda on the so-called Lahey Clinic Litigation, an allegation of corruption against the country's former premier. “There's lot of foreign law and research into procedural requirements in foreign courts," explained a trainee. The firm also recently helped drug producer Allergy Therapeutics sue Inflamax over its running of failed dosing trials; and represented Whirlpool, the maker of the fridge-freezer alleged to have been involved in the fire at Grenfell Tower, in the related public inquiry. Google and Nike are also clients.
“Answers are needed immediately."
Over in corporate there's a range of M&A, corporate finance, private equity and venture capital deals on offer, and there's a bit of securities work too. Technology matters feature heavily – the firm advised YummyApps on its sale of its shareholding in Lucky Zen, a mobile gaming operator, to Korean company ME2ON. The firm also worked on RZC Investments' acquisition of cycling fashionista brand Rapha for a reported £200 million. "There's a lot less research involved,” said one source, “because answers are needed immediately." Work therefore included "reviewing prospectuses and the checklists you have to file” in capital markets work, “and document and data room review for the due diligence process" on M&A.
The life sciences department covers transactions, regulatory, disputes, IP, employment and tax. Nonetheless, our sources had mainly worked on “commercial agreements for life sciences clients, and on their M&A transactions.” That ensured it wasn't "too different from corporate. You might pay more attention to the nature of the life sciences company because they may have a very interesting IP structure, which makes non-disclosure agreements important." Recently the team helped Orchard Therapeutics enter a strategic alliance with Généthon to develop gene therapy for an inherited disease, and aided Bigfoot Biomedical, a medical device company, in acquiring Patients Pending, makers of a product for diabetes sufferers. Given all of the technical work the company does, sources were pleased supervisors "really take time to check you understand the science – a relevant background does help for this seat!"
The Californian roots of the firm have more than a passing influence on lawyers in the UK. Sure, there's a healthy commitment to pro bono opportunities, but apparently, the culture is infectious too. Trainees told us “if someone returns from a trip to the US we'll say, 'You've drunk the Cool-Aid,' because there is this huge Cooley spirit there. Everyone is a go-getter and people are so into the firm succeeding." But that didn't result in a relentless atmosphere: “People have a relaxed persona at work and dress quite casually compared to other firms in the City.” Insiders praised the firm for “recruiting people, who all have similar personalities" – that is, not only “open and friendly” and, in some trainees' opinions “extroverted,” but also “very independent, eager to succeed and eager to demonstrate we can do things of our own accord.” Even the issue of integrating lawyers from the different legacy firms was lessening: “the gap between litigation and corporate is not so big any more. We do feel very integrated."
“...eager to demonstrate we can do things of our own accord.”
Socially, much is made of the annual trainee-run Christmas quiz, which is far from a stale University Challenge affair. One source explained: "The trainees are there to be heckled as well as run the quiz – they need to show they can stand up to the constant heckling of partners and associates!" We're assured it's all light-hearted fun – less rowdy socials include “monthly cocktails in our canteen, along with quarterly and half yearly socials.”
Overall sources felt "the events are fantastic but sometimes not particularly well attended given our workload." Trainees commonly arrive around 9am and leave between 9pm and 10pm – not for the faint-hearted. Early mornings were not unheard of and one source explained: “Early in the day you try and be as productive as possible but the time difference between London and America mean lots of work comes in at 4pm in the afternoon. When that happens late nights are unavoidable."
The firm isn't afraid to get creative with social events: “The next summer party is at London Zoo with exclusive use of the penguin beach and a barbecue outside!"
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How to get a Cooley training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 31 January 2019
Applications and assessments
Cooley recruits through its summer programme and usually receives around 500 applications for this. Trainee recruitment and legal talent manager Sarah Warnes tell us: “We focus our efforts on recruiting through the summer programme, so we tend not to have any further training places come the end of summer.” So if you want in: get on the vac scheme.
Applications begin with an online form. “It's very obvious who has and hasn't done any research at this point,” says Sarah Warnes, telling us that “anything generic always ends up in the 'no' pile. You should research things like the trainee role, how the firm organises itself, who our key clients are, what our key strengths are and where our future plans might be.” Warnes goes on to reveal that “we get a lot of applicants who have interesting experiences to draw upon but don't write about them very well. Ultimately this doesn't put them in a strong position. We want to see in someone's writing that they have a genuine energy and motivation and are engaged.”
The firm shortlists the most impressive applicants for an online critical thinking appraisal, designed to assess candidates’ critical thinking skills. Those who perform best are then invited to attend a half-day assessment which typically takes place in February or March. Assessment is focussed on a business case study. The case study is designed to assess a candidate's teamwork, communication and critical reasoning/analytical skills, as well as commercial awareness. Candidates work in groups of six to eight.
Around 12 candidates are then picked for a series of 30-minute one-to-one interviews with a mixture of partners and senior associates, involving competency and scenario-based questions, in addition to looking at your application, expect to be asked about your academic and life experiences to date and how these have prepared you for a career in a law firm. From here the firm awards places on the programme.
The summer programme
Cooley's summer programme lasts two weeks, and candidates split their time between two departments, working alongside trainees and attending partner-led skills sessions and talks. “There are structured activities like group-based tasks, and vac schemers will also help out on live matters,” says Warnes. “In the past, they've sat in on conference calls, attended hearings and client meetings, and helped trainees produce witness statements and research memos.” There are also various socials: previous activities include games nights, comedy evenings and cocktail making.
A word of warning: the American term for 'vacation scheme' is 'summer programme' with vac schemers referred to as 'summers'. We've come across the firm using this phrase, so if you do too then know it means the same as vac schemers.
Those hoping to join the ranks of Cooley need at least a 2:1 degree and 320 UCAS points at A level (not including points from general studies).
Warnes tells us that during the initial screening process, recruiters are on the lookout for people with relevant work experience, as “it can show commitment, common sense and being grounded, plus a willingness to get involved.” Note, this doesn't have to be law-related. “Naturally, we're not talking about going all the way back to 13-year-olds with paper rounds, but candidates should definitely include things like shop or bar work in their applications. It's rare to see an application from someone with no work experience at all, and it would certainly raise some questions from us.”
She goes on to tell us that future trainees must have a positive attitude, “even when some of the tasks may not be the most interesting.” Being adaptable is also important. “Our firm tends to use fairly lean teams, so trainees can expect to be the only one at their level on most matters, and to work closely with senior partners. As a result, the kind of person who does well is someone who tends to gravitate towards responsibility and who is always eager to get stuck in.”
Our trainee sources added: “The firm doesn't tend to recruit the stern, silent type! Instead, it favours people who are confident in their own abilities, but not arrogant, and with a capacity to express themselves. Putting your opinion forward is always encouraged here.”
69 Old Broad Street,
- Partners 28
- Assistant solicitors 60
- Total trainees 8
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 11
- Graduate recruiter: Sarah Warnes, [email protected]
- Training partner: Helen Clark, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 450 approx
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB (not including General Studies)
- Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 8
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 31 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 January 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 31 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Open day deadline: See website for details of events
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £115,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000 in London, £7,500 outside
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 5)
- Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 3)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment Recognised Practitioner