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‘A watershed moment’: Q&A with Cooley’s CEO on the firm’s London launch and philosophical decisions

Joe Conroy, chief executive of tech focused Californian firm Cooley, talks to Tom Moore on why it was harder to open in London than China and how the collapse of Edwards Wildman‘s city office created a ‘significant opportunity’ that led to a 55-lawyer launch.

What made you decide to open in London?

We made a philosophical decision to be a global firm. Our clients and our matters are increasingly global and you’re not going to be a global firm without having a robust presence in the London market as it’s a gateway to some of the other markets in Western Europe.

For a firm in our space to be global you’ve got to be muscular in London and in China. We’ve done well in China, but London’s a much harder market for us as it’s a much more heavily lawyered market so it took us longer to find the right group of folks. This is a watershed moment for Cooley.

How important was the Edwards Wildman and Locke Lord merger, and the instability it created, to your launch?

Whatever instability existed was an opportunity for us and, as it turned out, a significant opportunity for us. It gave us the opportunity to have a very advantageous economic head start to our play here in London.

How quickly can you make up ground on your competitors in the City?

We’ve been placing a lot of work on behalf of our clients with firms in London for years so I don’t see it as making up ground because the play for us all along has been to be something unique: a top 30 firm in the US that’s very experienced and branded around technology, innovation and high growth companies.

If you look at the work that comes out of the US, those clients all have significant interests in Europe and the vast majority of that goes through this town. We’re going to be representing European clients but we’re also over here to continue servicing the best clients in the States in their most business critical litigation matters.

What would be a success for Cooley in the London market?

For us, a healthy office is partners generating their own revenues and having the capability to lawyer matters coming from other offices. The people we picked up in London all have significant practices and we think Cooley will be a boon to their practices in terms of giving them a heightened brand and a whole slew of US clients that are going to be doing deals over here. We’re going to be representing European clients but we’re also over here to continue servicing the best clients in the States in their most business critical litigation matters.

If we’re able to have an office here that allows us to continue to move upward financially as a firm and have our brand at the higher end and serve the higher end needs of our most important clients, and do it in an integrated way, as it’s really important for a US firm to keep its eye on being integrated, that’s success for us.

This is a large investment. What concerns do your partners have?

100% of partners voted to open in London. I wouldn’t say it’s a large investment as we’re a very conservatively managed firm and we don’t have any debt and didn’t take on any debt to do this. Whatever the start-up costs are will come out of our cash flow. We’ve just finished our best year in the history of the firm.

Our partners do ask ‘how big do you have to be in London?’ I tell them that you have to match the market and that’s our play. For us to be able to service a high growth, high innovation technology client base, you’ve got to have robust corporate M&A and litigation practices. Even though we’re starting with a 55-lawyer office, we’re looking at a much bigger office than that.

For more coverage of Cooley’s London launch, see Planning to ‘make a big impact’.