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Cooley’s Surprise Chicago Play Comes Amid Fast Evolving Market

April 30, 2021, 9:34 PM

Silicon Valley-founded Cooley’s new move to open a Chicago office will position the firm among a growing group of recent Big Law entrants into the city, and give it better access to a lively startup scene.

Chicago may not have been on the shortlist for those in the industry watching Cooley, a firm that’s well known for its corporate work with technology and startups including on venture capital raises and initial public offerings.

But Cooley has signaled its seriousness about the city by the lake.

Bloomberg Law reported Wednesday the firm is staffing its new outpost, so far, with the chair of Winston & Strawn’s technology and emerging companies practice Rick Ginsberg, go-to-lawyer for the founder of Groupon Inc., and DLA Piper partner Greg Grossman, who’s worked with a long list of midwestern venture capital groups and growth stage companies.

“A firm of Cooley’s caliber and given their client base and the nature of our economy and the technology focus, I think it says great things about Chicago,” said John Cashman, president of global legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Cooley declined to comment on its new office. Its one of very few Bay Area-founded AmLaw 100 firms to open its doors in Chicago, but the city’s legal market has had no shortage of new players recently.

“I see [Cooley] being recognized as the top tech firm in the market if they come in,” said Kent Zimmermann, a consultant for law firm management at The Zeughauser Group, who is based in the city.

“I see them as a competitive threat for talent to a number of firms in town. But that having been said, there’s deeply rooted competition here,” he added.

The city’s already well known for hometown players well entrenched with the city’s corporate clients, like Kirkland & Ellis, which brought home $4.83 billion in profits last year with average profits per equity partner at $6.3 million. Nine of the 10 largest U.S. firms by gross revenue have Chicago offices.

The city has seen major firms enter even during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, New York-based Willkie Farr & Gallagher opened in Chicago, nabbing Jenner & Block chairman Craig Martin and five other partners from the firm to do so. In December, Venable added a 12-lawyer group from Schiff Hardin to launch its own Chicago office.

“[Chicago benefits from] the amount of top tier talent and size of corporate practices and the high billing rates that align with what firms are already charging in major markets,” said Jesse Hyde, a Chicago-based director at legal recruitment group Lateral Link.

Windy City Tech

Cooley isn’t stepping into a tech center on the scale of Boston, Silicon Valley, Austin, or New York, Cashman said, but technology is important to the future of Chicago.

“Chicago has kind of emerged as a strong emerging company and venture capital market. There are a number of startups here as well as large tech companies,” said Hyde.

He noted the city’s startups don’t center around disrupting just one industry, and instead run the gamut from health food to cryptocurrency to mental health care.

Groupon Inc. is one of the city’s largest startups, which when it went public in 2004 was the largest IPO by a U.S. internet company since Google. There are many others like Hireology, Rx Bar, and Cameo Inc., which after raising $100 million in new funding was recently valued at $1 billion.

The Midwest is also home to manufacturing, retail, life sciences companies, and financial institutions that are evolving their business models due to tech-driven innovation.

A recently released report on Chicago’s venture capital ecosystem found that since 2010, Chicago-area tech companies closed on 2,580 venture deals worth $17.8 billion, placing the city behind tech-hubs like the Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle.

But there’s also been forward momentum. In 2019, Chicago-area tech companies closed a record 302 venture deals worth $2.2 billion and, last year, the companies closed 190 transactions worth $1.6 billion.

For the tech-focused Cooley, this could be a lucrative ecosystem of emerging companies. In 2020, the firm advised on 294 IPO deals worth $40.24 billion, according to Bloomberg data. So far in 2021, the firm has advised on 125 IPOs worth $23.8 billion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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