Legal Business Blogs

Cooley leverages Brexit uncertainty to launch in Brussels

Four years after launching in London, West Coast US firm Cooley is to launch its second European base in Brussels.

The firm announced today (4 February) it has hired experienced competition partner Alexander Israel from leading German independent Noerr to lead the opening of its fourteenth branch worldwide. ‘Expanding Cooley’s presence in the European Union has long been a key component of our growth strategy,’ said chief executive Joe Conroy, adding that opening in the Belgian capital would strengthen the firm’s ability to support clients ‘particularly with the uncertainty of the Brexit environment’.

London competition partner Becket McGrath will also support the firm’s new base, splitting his time between the City and Brussels.  For Israel this will be his second Brussels launch, having helped set up Noerr’s Belgian base in 2014 after the firm hired him from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr. He was also previously at Covington & Burling and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.

Israel told Legal Business: ‘The plan is to grow the office and go beyond antitrust [adding] privacy and data protection.’

London managing partner Justin Stock said that Brexit played a part in speeding up plans rather than being the core reason for the launch: ‘Brussels and continental Europe have been on the cards for a long time. It is something Cooley has been looking at since before even opening in London. Antitrust and data protection are core to our main client base, and you have to be able to service them in Brussels. It was an easy decision. We decided to wait for the right people and Alexander is a fantastic start.’

The Brussels launch and a first mainland Europe office is a significant step for Cooley as its partnership has long been cautious when it comes to expanding out of the US. London required much persuasion of a sceptical US partnership by Conroy, until in 2015 the firm hired a 55-lawyer team from Morrison & Foerster and Edwards Wildman Palmer to finally open in the City.

The London branch has since achieved sustained turnover growth. In 2017, while the firm grew its top line 10% to $1.07bn, its London office saw turnover leap by 22% to $57.5m. It recently hired IP partner Charlie Winckworth from Hogan Lovells .

And, while the firm opened its second Chinese base in Beijing last year, following a launch in Shanghai in 2011, its other ten offices are all in the States.

While US firms have been opening offices with an antitrust focus in Brussels for the past 50 years, there have been a few UK or US launches in the Belgian capital over the last two years, largely prompted by the Brexit vote. Bristows opened in November 2017, in a move that joint managing partner Marek Petecki said was about ‘addressing the challenges of Brexit’ . Sullivan & Cromwell launched in May 2017, while Macfarlanes set up a Belgian outpost in January that year after hiring a competition team from the ailing European arm of King & Wood Mallesons.