Cooley's London base nears $50m mark two years after launch

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Cooley has continued its rapid growth in London, with the US firm’s City base seeing revenues rise to almost $50m just two years after launch.

Although the firm does not report separate office figures, it is understood that the London office – which launched in January 2015 with the hire of 20 partners from Edwards Wildman and Morrison & Foerster – took in $47m (£37.6m) in revenue during 2016.

When the fast-growing firm boosted its gross revenue by nearly 14% in 2015, CEO Joseph Conroy cautioned that corporate activity would be likely to slow in 2016, and that the firm’s partner profits might dip. But that’s not how things turned out.

Though last year did bring a more challenging economic climate, Cooley’s firm-wide revenue climbed to $974m (£778m) – an increase of 6.8%. Revenue per lawyer stayed steady at $1.14m (£911,000), while profits per partner rose 4.2%, to nearly $1.97m (£1.57m).

“I would have predicted, given our historic performance in capital markets in 2015, a drop-off,” Conroy said. “But the second half of the year turned out to be stronger than we thought it’d be. I think the capital markets got a little less queasy in the second half of the year.”

Conroy attributed Cooley’s ability to weather the slowdown to strong performance in the firm’s core practice areas, including technology, life sciences and venture capital. Cooley lawyers advised on more than 200 M&A deals in 2016, including the $14bn (£11bn) sale of San Francisco-based biopharmaceutical company Medivation to Pfizer, which was the largest transaction in Cooley’s history.

A team from the firm is also taking the lead for Snap on a proposed $3bn (£2.4bn) initial public offering, which the Snapchat parent company announced earlier this month after filing confidentially late last year.

Cooley also had a successful year on the litigation front, including an appellate win for pharmaceutical company Patheon, in a $380m (£304m) antitrust battle with its former joint venture partner Procaps.

The firm added seven equity partners last year, increasing its equity partner headcount by 3.6% from 2015. Cooley also hired 23 lateral partners, and its total headcount grew by 53. That includes a team of three New York-based international arbitration partners – “not a practice that we’ve historically been large in, but a practice that is increasingly important to us and our clients”, according to Conroy – from Chadbourne & Parke.

Four of those lateral hires were in London, where Cooley launched its first European office in early 2015. The firm’s UK headcount stands at 80 lawyers, a 45% increase from when the office opened. Cooley developed a separate business plan for London this year, which Conroy said it beat. The office handled UK litigation matters for clients like Bambino Holdings (the family trust of billionaire Bernie Ecclestone’s ex-wife Slavica Ecclestone), global information technology consultancy Ciber and the British overseas territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“In 2017, I think we are looking for strong revenue growth, not just because we’re going to continue to execute well in our core markets but because we’re going to continue to knit together this group of lawyers we’ve added in the past few years,” Conroy said.

That group also includes more than 50 lawyers that Cooley picked up when it acquired the bulk of Washington DC-based Dow Lohnes in 2014. In 2017, Conroy said his firm aims to continue expanding in the nation’s capital and London, while also focusing on Boston, California and New York.

In general, Conroy’s outlook for the year ahead is rosier than it was this time last year. “We are very optimistic about 2017,” he said. “We expect another year of prudent growth and investment for the firm.”