Cooley’s official launch of a 10-partner Chicago outpost on Monday is a culmination of what firm vice chair Mike Lincoln said was a decade of scoping out the Midwestern venture capital scene, which he believes can support the firm’s full-service office ambitions.
Bloomberg Law reported last month Cooley was poised to open in Chicago with former Winston & Strawn partner Rick Ginsberg and former DLA Piper partner Greg Grossman. The firm said the office will also include former Latham & Watkins partner Laurie Bauer.
Those lawyers represent venture capital firms and emerging companies, a practice that has built Cooley’s national brand and helped it become one of the fastest-growing law firms in the past decade with revenue more than tripling since 2010. Cooley has become the first among a small group of Big Law firms that made their names representing startups in Silicon Valley to put down stakes in Chicago.
Some competitors have privately questioned whether Chicago’s start-up scene is mature enough to reward Cooley for its investment. But Lincoln said in an interview the Midwest has Cooley’s stamp of approval, benefiting recently from the buildup of software engineers and academic institutions that are launching more important companies.
“The time is ripe for taking advantage of that trend,” Lincoln said. “For us, as long as we could identify the right team, which we’ve done, we viewed it as a no-brainer to make this move.”
Chicago’s venture capital investments totaled $2.8 billion last year, up more than 21% from a year ago, according to Pitchbook data. Minneapolis, another Midwest city Cooley partners mentioned as part of their focus, saw $1.6 billion in deals, which was nearly 30% higher than 2019.
Still, Pitchbook says around 80% of venture capital fundraising is consolidated in main tech hubs such as the Bay Area, Boston, and New York—all places Cooley already has large offices.
Cooley’s new partners already have connections to some of the largest venture capital firms and investors in Chicago.
Ginsberg has been a lawyer for Eric Lefkofsky, the billionaire entrepreneur who founded Chicago-based coupon site Groupon Inc., medical data startup Tempus Labs Inc., and third-party logistics provider Echo Global Inc. Grossman has represented a number of prominent Midwest-based venture capital groups, including Pritzker Group Venture Capital, Baird Capital, Lightbank, and Chicago Ventures. And Bauer, who led Latham’s local emerging companies practice is on the board of directors for 1871, a local startup hub.
“Rick, Greg, and I have been doing this here and we are thrilled that Cooley recognized the thing we’d recognized, which is that there are great companies and investors here and that a market already exists,” Bauer said in an interview. “And for Cooley to come to town and be additive to that was an opportunity that none of us could turn down.”
Ginsberg and Grossman said that while their group will focus on emerging companies work, the firm plans to service a full range of companies out of Chicago. They said the firm also intends to add litigators to its Chicago office soon.
“Cooley has the sophistication and capability to take companies public and represent massive sophisticated public companies in all of their work,” Ginsburg said. “A lot of our peer firms tend to be more on one side or the other and not combine both early growth stage work and post-IPO work under one roof.”
Also joining from DLA Piper are M&A partner Erin Kirchner and employment partner Ryan Vann.
Christina Roupas and Courtney Tygesson, who specialize in capital markets and public companies, are joining from Winston alongside fund formation partner Zach Robert and New York-based executive compensation and benefits partner Nyron Persaud.
The 10th partner is Yvan-Claude Pierre, a corporate and capital markets attorney who joined Cooley in 2015 from Reed Smith. Pierre led the expansion effort into Chicago and will split his time between Chicago and New York.
Cooley has been in expansion mode this year following a strong 2020 when the firm’s revenue grew nearly 17% to $1.55 billion and its profits per equity partner rose by more than 25% to $3.18 million, according to data from The American Lawyer. Lincoln said the firm already has a base of Midwest clients.
“They already are doing a huge amount of business without even being here,” said Kay Hoppe, a veteran legal recruiter in Chicago. “And it’s not just venture. It’s technology, life sciences, and all the rust belt companies that are becoming tech companies. Anyone who underestimates this opening is missing the point.”