Cooley hired Obrea Poindexter and Sean Ruff, the Washington-based former co-chairs of Morrison & Foerster’s financial technology practice, in a coup for the Silicon Valley-founded firm’s East Coast expansion.
The fintech hires come after an “incredibly strong” year for Cooley in 2020 driven by robust markets for initial public offerings, corporate transactions, and venture capital financing, the firm’s vice chair, Mike Lincoln, said in an interview.
“We are trying to be opportunistic about talent that may be available because of the disruption that has occurred,” Lincoln said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing recession.
With its roots in Silicon Valley, Cooley is considered a top firm representing technology and life sciences companies. Cooley in June represented financial data firm Finicity in its nearly $1 billion sale to Mastercard.
The firm has been building its East Coast presence for two decades and now has roughly the same number of lawyers there as it does on the West Coast, Lincoln said. Still, the East Coast offices in New York, Washington, and Boston are relatively young for a firm that in 2019 ranked as the 23rd largest by revenue, with nearly $1.4 billion, according to AmLaw data.
“In most downturns you expect capital markets to slow down or completely pause, and that did not happen,” Cooley’s Lincoln said. “We did a tremendous volume of public offerings, M&A and venture financings. So, 2020 was a terrific year in that regard.”
In December, the firm hired Tiana Demas, Facebook Inc.’s former assistant general counsel who investigated cyberattacks out of Washington. And the firm’s former Washington-based partner Elizabeth Prelogar is currently serving as acting U.S. Solicitor General.
Poindexter and Ruff advise both emerging companies and large financial institutions or companies that are developing tech-enabled financial products for transactions such as payments, lending, or investing.
At Morrison & Foerster, where she’d practiced since 1999, Poindexter also co-chaired the financial services group, headed the mobile payments group, and co-chaired the diversity committee.
Ruff previously served as director of lead payments and regulatory counsel for mobile payments company Square Inc.
Fintech transactions have faced significant regulatory scrutiny, with a Department of Justice antitrust challenge causing Visa Inc. to abandon this month a $5 billion acquisition of another financial data provider, Plaid Inc.
“Cooley’s platform offers a mix of work for traditional financial institutions and large technology companies—fintech unicorns for example,” Poindexter said in an interview. “But what also makes Cooley special is its emerging companies practice. It is like no other. That really is what brought me to Cooley.”
In a record year for IPOs, Cooley last year advised two of the largest U.S. companies to go public, Snowflake Inc. and Unity Software Inc., which raised nearly $3.9 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Snowflake’s IPO set a record for U.S. software companies. Cooley lawyers owned a roughly $150 million piece of Snowflake through GC&H Investments LLC, an affiliated investment fund.
Many in Big Law expect a hyperactive market for lateral partner moves this year following depressed levels of activity in 2020. Many firms fared better than expected during the pandemic, and some are predicting profits per partner could have grown 20% for the largest firms in the country. That could spur more hiring by the wealthiest firms.