Legal Trailblazer: Rachel Proffitt Becomes Cooley’s First Female Law Star CEO
Start-up specialist Rachel Proffitt is set to take on a pivotal role as CEO at leading Silicon Valley-based law firm Cooley, it’s first-ever female leader.
She succeeds the longstanding leader, Joe Conroy, who will continue as chairman. This transition marks a significant milestone for Cooley as Proffitt will become the West Coast firm’s first female CEO. Her new role begins on January 1, 2024.
She joined Cooley in 2017 from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Cooley is best known for its technology and life sciences work and has revenues of over $1.55 billion, according to 2022 figures.
The firm employs over 1400 lawyers across its 18 offices in the US, Asia and Europe. It has 380 partners and has long trumpeted its encouragement of gender and racial equality issues.
The firm sites at #24 on LawFuel list of the most prestigious law firms in the world.
As a current member of the firm’s board of directors, co-chair of its legal education committee, and a participant in its strategic and board nominating committees, she has already made substantial contributions to the firm’s direction and development and is expected to maintain and enhance Cooley’s leading role as a tech law specialist.
This leadership change represents a governance shake-up for Cooley, as it departs from the combined role of CEO and chairman held by Conroy.
Proffitt’s core responsibilities will encompass shaping and executing the firm’s strategic priorities, overseeing day-to-day operations, enhancing the firm’s internal infrastructure, and maintaining a strong commitment to innovation.
The succession planning process began in the autumn of 2022 and involved extensive consultation with and input from Cooley’s global partnership.
The Profittable Law Career
Proffitt brings a wealth of experience to her new role, boasting a 21-year career specializing in corporate and securities law.
A native Californian, she graduated from the Hastings College of Law and has received recognition in Chambers USDA for her work with start-ups and emerging companies, described variously as “phenomenal,” “thorough” and “incredibly fast to respond,” and observers noting that “she does well at balancing risk.”
She has received the Daily Journal awards as one of the top 100 Women Lawyers in California
- Recognized by the Daily Journal as one of the Top 100 Women Lawyers in California for 2015
- University of California, Hastings College of the Law JD
- Member, Hastings International and Comparative Law Review
- Member, Hastings Security Law Society
- University of California, Los Angeles
- BA, English, cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, University Honors Program
Throughout her career, she has worked with public and private companies, venture capital firms, investment banks, and other institutional investors across diverse industries. She recently played a pivotal role in Cooley’s advisory team for Maplebear Inc., the parent company of Instacart, during its initial public offering.
Despite recent challenges in the tech industry-focused legal landscape, Proffitt’s appointment reflects Cooley’s commitment to continuity and its innovative approach. Cooley, known for its prominent Silicon Valley clients, has weathered market fluctuations and is poised for growth.
But challenges remain.
As Cooley’s new CEO, she wants to continue a strategic focus on executing priorities and ensuring seamless day-to-day operations.
Her leadership role coincides with a challenging period for the technology-focused law firm. Despite clients like Apple, Meta Platforms Inc. (the parent company of Facebook), and the chip titan, Nvidia Corp. there have been some severe fluctuations in the tech market affecting lawyers and others in the business.
Cooley experienced a remarkable surge in business during the pandemic, driven by the SPAC frenzy and groundbreaking IPOs, recent months have seen a persistent decline in the transactional sector, resulting in decreased demand. This market shift compelled the firm, along with others in the industry, to make the difficult decision of reducing its legal and support staff.
It will be a challenging time for the lawyer who has always been up for a challenge.