Cooley appoints first woman CEO as Conroy prepares to stand down after 16 years

San Francisco corporate head Rachel Proffitt to take over in 2024; Conroy to stay on as chair

Cooley has appointed a new CEO to take over from its longstanding leader, Joe Conroy, who will continue as chairman.

Rachel Proffitt, who currently leads the firm’s San Francisco corporate practice, will take over from Conroy on 1 January, when she will become the West Coast firm’s first woman CEO. 

Proffitt is a member of the firm’s board of directors, co-chairs its legal education committee and has served as a member of its strategic and board nominating committees. 

The move heralds a governance shake-up at Cooley as Conroy held the combined role of CEO and chairman. The firm said Proffitt’s primary areas of focus would include “shaping and executing the firm’s strategic priorities” as well as “managing day to day operations, continuing to enhance the firm’s internal infrastructure and support its commitment to innovation”.

It added that the succession process had started in the autumn of 2022 and “included extensive consultation with and input from Cooley’s global partnership”.

Proffitt joined Cooley in 2017 from West Coast rival Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where she spent 15 years. Conroy said she was “the ideal person to carry forward our vision of becoming one of the great law firms of the next generation” highlighting her “incredible energy, strategic thinking and deep understanding of our global practices”.

Conroy became Cooley's CEO in 2008 and has been closely associated with its strategic expansion from its roots as a Silicon Valley firm to a leading tech-focused US firm with a substantial network of international offices. During his tenure the firm more than doubled its headcount and grew its revenue from less than $500m to $2bn.

Strategic highlights included headline-grabbing launches in London in 2015, with a 55-lawyer team recruited from an array of leading firms, and Chicago in 2021 when it hired nine partners from firms including Winston & Strawn, Latham & Watkins and DLA Piper.

However, the firm suffered a hangover from the dramatic slowdown in tech-focused corporate work in the second half of 2022, announcing in December that it was laying off 150 employees in the US including 78 attorneys. It blamed the move on the market downturn.

Proffitt paid tribute to Conroy’s “extraordinary leadership” adding: “Our success is attributable first and foremost to a culture of inclusivity that genuinely promotes a one-firm, team-centred approach, and an entrepreneurial spirit that reflects our innovative and forward-thinking clients.”

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