Cooley Recruits MoFo’s Drone Practice Leader

January 29, 2018


By Xiumei Dong

William O’Connor, chair of the unmanned aerial vehicle/drones and aviation and airports group at Morrison & Foerster, is headed to Cooley in San Diego.

Cooley has hired Morrison & Foerster’s William O’Connor as a partner for its litigation department in San Diego.

O’Connor, who will officially start at Cooley on Monday, most recently served as head of MoFo’s litigation department in San Diego and chair of the firm’s airports and aviation practice and its unmanned aerial vehicle and drones group.

“We are looking to bring on trial lawyers and courtroom advocates,” said Michael Attanasio, chair of Cooley’s global litigation department. Attanasio added that his team was impressed by O’Connor’s experience in dealing with complex commercial litigation matters.

O’Connor joined MoFo’s San Diego office as an associate in 2004 after nearly three years in the local office of DLA Piper predecessor Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich. Since then, he has built a practice around aviation and commercial litigation with a focus on drones, insurance, product liability, real estate and toxic torts.

In 2014, the aviation enthusiast even helped MoFo launch an unmanned aircraft practiceto tackle the challenges presented by the growing use of commercial drones by U.S. companies. In 2016, MoFo hired former U.S. Department of Transportation general counsel Kathryn Thomson to work with O’Connor in expanding the firm’s offerings to potential clients.

But Thomson left MoFo last year to become an associate general counsel for transportation and logistics at Inc., which has been expanding its operationsin the drone space. That development and other major industry players refining their technologies have helped drone practices at many large firms finally get off the ground.

“Firms, like Cooley, with a strong base of technology clients have a need for aviation advice, particularly around unmanned-aircraft,” O’Connor said.

As unmanned aerial vehicle technology evolves, the course of litigation in the aviation space has become more complex, O’Connor said. There have been fewer aviation disaster cases but more matters involving airport disputes and product liabilities, he added. As a result, there is a greater demand for top trial lawyers from clients, and the opportunity to join Cooley’s technology sector trial teams was one that O’Connor said he couldn’t turn down.

Cooley, which opened its San Diego office in 1992, recently recruited three partners in three cities to build out its cybersecurity expertise. The Am Law 100 firm, known for its work advising companies in the life sciences and technology industries, currently has about 100 lawyers in San Diego. Cooley also is no stranger to hiring from MoFo, having raided the firm three years ago this month for a team of lawyers to help open a new London office.

Attanasio said Cooley is prepared to expand its aviation practice around O’Connor. While Cooley’s lawyers in Washington, D.C., have experience in aviation regulation matters, O’Connor said he specializes primarily in aviation disputes.

“There is a real opportunity [at Cooley] to combine those strengths and offer aviation clients that full practice of expertise,” he said.

Cooley’s technology industry clients helped bolster the firm’s bottom line in 2016, as the fast-growing outfit hit the 854-lawyer mark and saw gross revenue climbed to $974 million, making it the top-earning Am Law 100 firm in the Bay Area that year

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