The problems faced by US law firms opening in London is something that Cooleys spoke about, with local UK lawyers finding the experience of working for a US “outpost” to be trial in more ways than one.
In January, Cooley LLP the technology law firm based in California opened its first office in London, with a massive takeover of 55 attorneys from Morrison & Foerster, as well as Edwards Wildman.
Cooley chief executive officer Joe Conroy spoke to Big Law Business about what drove the firm’s decision to move to London, why it’s so difficult for U.S. firms to establish an office there, and what the future plans for Cooley are.
He said that UK lawyers tend to think that the London offices of US firms are not treated as being on a par with the domestic US offices. ‘They’ve become outposts, they’ve become silos,’ he said. ‘They haven’t really had the care and feeding they’ve needed to become a part of an integrated firm.’
As Blooomberg BNA report:
There are fast-growing emerging growth markets in technology and life sciences in London. London, as a market for big law firms, is not just a market for business in London or the UK, but it’s a proxy market because many deals that come out of European countries get lawyered through London. So it wasn’t just to represent our domestic clients, but also to service an existing market opportunity there.
Big Law Business: Was the expansion a strategic or singular opportunity?
Conroy: It was an extraordinarily unique opportunity that allowed us to get there in a very meaningful, very impactful way. The opportunity to essentially grab the guts of an existing office of another law firm, which was primarily contentious work and intellectual property work and all the infrastructure that came with that and also at the same time, put into that, a technology and life science focused corporate practice from another law firm. Put all of that together so you start seamlessly with an operation that’s servicing clients on day one with probably about 55 lawyers when we started. That was a pretty unique opportunity and it was by far the most compelling opportunity that we saw.
Big Law Business: How big is the London office currently?
Conroy: We’ve been slow to hire associates because in this market it’s harder to hire associates. They have notice clauses there that US associates don’t have. I’m not exactly sure of the associate number but we’ve added lateral partners including John Wilkinson and Nicola Mcguire who came from Reed Smith in London have preeminent European life sciences transactional practice. We also have a private equity and tax partner from Olswang who is currently in their notice period. We’re actively recruiting in the market. The reaction of the lateral market has been even stronger than the most optimistic of us would have hoped. I think it’s distinctive. If you have a practice there, and you want to be with a premiere law firm, we’re not the only game in town, but we’re standing there in the front of that list.
We have been focused all along on how tough a market London is. It has been a really tough market for US firms to penetrate and penetrate well. It’s really crowded and it’s got some of the best lawyers and best law firms are there. For us, we had the competitive advantage of having something pretty easily distinguishable and differentiated from what other US law firms have done there and frankly what other law firms in the market have done.
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