Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP - The Inside View

Fascinating international work is on offer here to the small intake of associates.

BEFORE you speak to anyone here, you should know it's not pronounced 'mallet' (as in hammer) but the more sophisticated 'malay'. But this is where comparisons with a clumsy tool end: when sovereign nations, governments or international corporations clash across borders, a delicate hand is needed to negotiate tense international arbitrations when so much is at stake. This is the firm's forte. Founded way back in 1830, the firm quickly expanded abroad and its 14 international offices today make this moderately sized New Yorker disproportionately global. Less conventional locations – like Astana and Ashgabat – join global financial centers like London and Dubai in the current office roster, and 2016 saw the addition of Geneva.  The work in NY is usually international, though less so in litigation and tax. Some form of worldly knowledge is almost ubiquitous among associates, whether through travel experience or speaking a second language.

Curtis takes a refined approach to hiring, bringing in a select group of around ten associates each year. They gleefully told us they “didn't want to join a giant and didn't want to get lost in the shuffle.” Hiring partner Carl Ruggiero explains that “we're able to invest a lot more in the people who come here because of that.” A strong dose of early responsibility for associates proves his point.

The Work



"I was the only one talking – it did feel a bit sink or swim.” 

Although opportunities do occasionally crop up in groups like trusts & estates and restructuring & insolvency, the vast majority of Curtis' fresh faces splits between the 'corporate international' and litigation teams. In corporate there is an assigning partner, but newbies we spoke to felt it was more “self directed – you go out and find the work you want to do.” This system means associates can experience everything on offer, including M&A, IP, investment management, securities, funds, and international arbitration, or commit to a more focused approach. “If you wanted to do only funds and they like you there, then you could do just that.” But in changing it up, associates found partners “very accommodating.” Corporate are big on client contact from day one. One associate recalled a “positive” experience “being the only person on the call as a first-year. It was only a minor agreement and the partner was sitting in on it, but I was the only one talking – it did feel a bit sink or swim.” 

Significantly, Curtis' esteemed international arbitration practice falls into the corporate bracket. Cases here are “pretty leanly staffed,” so associates happily reported having “daily communications with partners.” As you might expect, “most of the matters are staffed across either the DC office or offices around the world.” Associates could look back on a strong variety of work: “Drafting submissions, incidental correspondence or provisional measures. You also coordinate document production and assist in the preparation for hearings. And I've drafted the opening statement for the cross-examination of a witness.”

By contrast, the litigation group's clients and concerns are largely homegrown. Work assignment is also a “more formal” affair, where the assigning partner holds the cards. This drew the complaint that some partners “reserve certain associates to have them on call,” limiting which matters can be accessed. It's a broad group, though, with securities, commercial litigation and some arbitration on offer –  “a generalist department, to be honest.” Some “fairly tedious” doc review features, but associates assured us that “you can do whatever you are capable of. Nobody gives you your tasks based on your class year.” They progressed to “drafting motions and briefs” and “preparing witness statements,” though “the training wheels were definitely on to start with – the firm keeps a vigilant eye on your work.” 

Training & Development



Associates were pleased with their level of client contact and regular partner interaction. “It's a case of just diving in and hoping for the best, but everyone is cognizant that's what you're doing.” For support, juniors looked to their peers, “going into each other's offices if you have a question. They'll share whatever experience they have with you.” They also lauded their partner mentors as “a great tool to get close with one partner and to build a strong relationship.”

"I don't crave the formal experience.”

Regarding organized training, “it's impossible to exhaustively cover everything, but they do a good job.” First, basic subjects are covered like “legal research and writing” or “how to use online research tools.” Then practice groups take up the mantle. “Every month litigation has a breakfast meeting. They vary: some update the team on cases we're working on, and others are just training.” Interviewees generally preferred “learning on the job. I don't feel I'm hanging out to dry, I don't crave the formal experience.” They did, however, lament a lackadaisical approach to formal reviews. There is one per year, but “if feedback comes it's normally more informal and ad hoc.”

Pro Bono



"You make it fit because you want to do it.”

Associates who'd done pro bono spoke enthusiastically about it – including the opportunity of “getting experience in front of a judge.” The fact that pro bono counts hour-for-hour toward associates' billable hours target serves as further incentive. Nevertheless, some sources hadn't done any at all: “I would like to do pro bono, but I don't feel I have had time to do it,” was one typical response. While the firm sends out opportunities to get involved, associates stressed that “nobody tells you to do it, but it's there if you want it.” Some felt certain partners simply prioritized billable work, or that working on larger billable cases made it impossible to find the time for pro bono. Ultimately, it is “up to you to seize the initiative. It's up to the associate to get all of the work done. You make it fit because you want to do it.”

Pro Bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 3,456
  • Average per US attorney:  26

Diversity



“I do think it's diverse, but more because of our international practice than because of an active desire to recruit diverse associates,” one representative interviewee believed. “From my end, seeing who comes in, everyone seems pretty similar.” Well informed associates acknowledged the firm's good showing in diversity awards and rankings, but maintained that “it's one of our biggest faults. We have very few African-American attorneys, a lot of female associates but very few female partners.” Besides “a women's initiative, where we meet every month to talk about women in law,” interviewees couldn't think of any other diversity initiatives.

Offices



Junior associates reside in New York. “The location is great. It's a giant building in front of Grand Central so it's really easy to get to. The actual offices are pretty classic, they're not modern, they're formally decorated.” Others described the space as “comfortable and warm.” A renovation is nearly finished, but it's nothing revolutionary: “They're doing it in the exact same color!” If the surrounds weren't reassuring and unchanging enough, most associates also share an office for around three years.

Culture



Despite its long list of foreign offices, we were reminded by associates that “it's a fairly small firm in terms of New York BigLaw.” This fosters “a tight camaraderie” and ensures “you don't get lost amongst hundreds of people.” Within practice groups, “you say hi, you talk about politics and sports,” but some felt that an air of formality ruled proceedings. Interviewees put this down to the “offices not being modern or open plan,” and  “people approaching work fairly seriously.” Undoubtedly “it's pretty far from a Google or Facebook environment,” but that's fairly symptomatic of NY law firms.

"If you push to get questions answered they won't hide anything.”

The firm's long history is unavoidable – the firm wrote a book on the subject – but most antiquated ideas left long ago. It's still a little tight-lipped on business developments for some associates, but “the partnership is responsive if you ask what's going on. If you push to get questions answered they won't hide anything.” A formal dress code was the most evident archaic rite. It's “suits and ties every day [for male associates] except for Fridays, when you don't have to wear a tie – but you should still have one with you!”

Chances to dress down aren't “super regular.” Instead, “probably once a month there is some sort of firm sponsored meet up or activity.” The firm also gets together when people join or leave the firm, for the Christmas period, or for summer events where people might “play some pool or go bowling.” Be in no doubt, this is “a tight knit group,” but “many people come to work, are friendly to one another, then go home and have their friends outside of work.”

Hours & Compensation



“In law, there are gonna be times when your hours suck, that's just the reality of life,” said one straight-talking associate. “But here they suck the way you want them to suck. If you prefer coming in late and working late at night you can do it, as long as the work gets done.” Though weekends weren't quite sacred, with “six or seven day weeks” cropping up occasionally, associates for the most part found these periods to be predictable. As recompense for going through the mill, we heard talk of the odd afternoon off work. Otherwise 6.30pm was a typical home time when the going was good.

The 2,000 billable hours target is “easily achievable,” most told us. Those 2,000 hours can include things like pro bono work and business development. The salary received no complaints as “Curtis just moved to the market rate for the first four years. So I'm happy for the foreseeable future!” But the bonuses received some complaints having been below market in 2015.

Strategy & Future



Associates adeptly assessed the firm as “not static, but it is conservative. It opens its offices based on a clear need for them, not just for the sake of growing.” Another remarked that “we're not suddenly going to have a new practice.” Those aboard this steady ship were reassured that “most partners are people who started here and came up through the ranks.” Keeping that up, the firm promoted eight partners in the US this year, and HP Carl Ruggiero tells us “we are looking for people making a career.”

“We are looking for people making a career.”

 

 

Curtis' international arbitration work



As much as lawyers can get a kick out of representing famous (or infamous) individuals, as much as it thrills to represent the interests of a multi-billion dollar corporation, it can't be argued that representing entire sovereign states comes with a certain je ne sais quoi. Curtis is a hotbed of this sort of work, being extremely well regarded for its nouse in representing sovereign states and state entities in investor-state arbitrations. 

The team operates out of 18 offices worldwide and the practice handles disputes under the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (part of the World Bank), the International Chamber of Commerce, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the American Arbitration Association. Its long list of recent clients include India, Turkmenistan, the Republic of Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Albania, Uganda, Cyprus as well as both the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Petroleos de Venezuela.

The relationship with Venezuela is a strong one. The firm has been credited with aiding the country, under Hugo Chavez, to reap the benefits of its natural resources, pushing the country forward pre-2008. Much of the work concerned taking back control of Venezuela's oil production through re-nationalization. The firm has a history of this sort of work, (much of which is owed to George Kahale III, the firm's chairman), wresting control from large multinational companies, with work for Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi's Libya being another notable example.

The firm's also done a lot of work in central Asia, another resource rich area. In Kazakhstan the work originated around contracts regarding the Kashagan oil field. After planned production of the oil, controlled by a number of multi-nationals, was delayed, the Kazakh government brought Curtis in to represent its interests. As a result of this work in the region, the firm, rather uniquely, has offices in both Ashgabat, capital of Turkmenistan and Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.

Chambers Associate interview with Curtis' hiring manager Carl Ruggiero



What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?

We go to 16 law schools a year in the US, they are those which you might expect: Boston College, Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, NYU, UPenn, St. John’s, Stanford, UVA & Yale.

That's where we'll stay, we are very conservative, we don't cast that wide a net. We have been successful with that size of recruitment.

How do you pre-screen those who have bid on your firm?

So it depends on each school, we have a different criteria at each. Some schools don't permit us to do that. Sometimes it's a lottery, sometimes it's not, that depends on school. We don't really have a lot of criteria for pre screening – but we do for who we ask back.

Do you foresee the number of associates you hire increasing?

Probably not. We are pretty happy with the entering classes. It goes to the way the firm sees itself, and how it sees itself in the market. We are international – way more than half of us are non-US people. We are on the lookout for those people who are getting more than an LLM, although we welcome many LLM students each year.  We are always looking for the extraordinary law student.

What kind of questions do you ask in OCIs?

I think that's very individual. We don't prep people for interviews. We have a cheat sheet we give with suggested questions, but partners and associates who go to the OCIs know the firm and the culture. It would be a lot of questions to discern if associates would be willing to accede to our culture. We have a very distinct culture: old, aware of its history, aware of our high standards, some clients have been with us for a hundred years. People are dedicated to the clients and it's a very international law firm. It has to be a certain type of person to be able to do well here. Each of us tries in our own way to discern whether the candidate will prosper here. That person has to have gone to a good school, but it has to be something more as well.

From my own case I prefer to talk about their undergrad theses to see if they can talk with enthusiasm about it. I'd rather talk about their opinion on philosophy or an avocation than ask about a case which will not tell me anything about their personality.

What kind of preparation would you advise for the interviews? How can somebody get ahead before they step into the interview room?

I think they should really do their research about the firm, about our practice – they should have a reason for coming here. They need to be enthusiastic about something we do, not about something we don't do, like tobacco litigation. It's always helpful if they have a real reason for coming here.

We're not hiring drones. Can't just look at grades and that's it. When you have such a small class it's impossible to game the system. If you're truly enthusiastic, it will show.

Litigation tends not to be full of internationalists. Everybody else is. And so people who know us will shine through. If you are just interviewing 35 firms in a week it will not work.

I like to overplay the domesticity of litigation so that people are pleasantly surprised. There is quite a lot of international work in insolvency and litigation but it's better for us to emphasise that those are, by nature, domestic, just so that they are clear. Then nobody thinks they have been baited and switched. The type of people who come here are enthusiastic to do white collar crime and to do the stuff we do here. We have a thriving dynamic government investigations practice and it's very interesting.

What's the firm's attitude to having a second language? Can you clarify in what cases it is necessary?

It's not even strictly necessary in international arbitration, but in corporate international almost everyone does speak one other language at native fluency. It's more than just speaking it, they need to be trained so that they are able to write in legalese, not just say 'where is the nearest restaurant?' That is not strictly necessary everywhere. We have plenty of funds lawyers who don't speak other languages. But it will open opportunities for people who do speak fluently.

There's a lot of travel amongst the 17 offices so speciality in a foreign language will just lead to opportunity, especially in corporate and international arbitration with peers in lots of non-US offices. But if English is your only language that's fine.

If you claim that you speak another language, will be tested. If on your CV it says you are fluent, someone here can test you. Your claim and skill level will be checked.

Otherwise, what are some of the ways that associates can demonstrate an international approach?

It's like applying to undergrad; it has to be demonstrated. Say, if you have lived abroad, that will be on your CV.

Roughly how many offers do you make to your summers?

We gave 100% offers and all of the offers were accepted. This year and last we gave everyone an offer.

How can someone really stand out as a summer associate?

I think we treat summers the same way we treat first-years. They get real experience. I guess the only thing is that they shouldn't feel reticent about taking advantage of our mentors.  The more they take advantage the more they will get out of the summer.

More from associates on getting hired



Associates had some important nuggets of advise for breezing through the firm's interviews. “You should come into the interview being yourself. We're not looking for people who are snobby; we want down to earth people who are no too showy. Also don't start cussing! Some people have done that in the past! Just answer the questions honestly and find out about the departments.” Interviewers are sure to ask about “the experience a candidate has. They are testing your recall and your ability to summarise well. They want you to give a cohesive answer.”  Another associate recalled that “if you have a language skill they might try and test it. One of my interviews was partially in French.” One important fact to note is that the firm “doesn't do rotations in the summer program, so you have to pick what group you want to be in.”

“Personality is important; it's a small group and a small community with lots of interaction so the key thing is our ability to get along with people on a prolonged basis.” Also of premium value was a “hard-working candidate.” As for the criteria for internationally focused groups, namely corporate and especially international arbitration, associates were “normally well travelled and many do speak multiple languages.”

 

Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP

101 Park Avenue,
New York,
NY 10178-0061
Website www.curtis.com

  • Head Office: New York City, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Worldwide revenue: $151,500,000
  • Partners (US): 58
  • Associates (US): 71
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,461.53/week
  • 2Ls: $3,461.53/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case 
  • Summers 2017: 9
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 9 offers for 2Ls, 9 acceptances

Main areas of work
Curtis represents clients across industry sectors, including multinational corporations and financial institutions, governments and state-owned companies, money managers, sovereign wealth funds, family-owned businesses, individuals and entrepreneurs. Curtis’ attorneys provide legal services in international arbitration, energy, renewable energy and climate change, project finance and infrastructure development, international tax, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, restructuring and insolvency, litigation, banking and finance, capital markets, investment management, international investment, corporate law and real estate.

Firm profile
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP is a leading international law firm that provides a broad range of legal services to clients around the world. The firm operates worldwide throughout its offices in Europe, the United States, Latin America, the Middle East and Central Asia. Curtis’ international orientation has been a hallmark of its practice for nearly two centuries. Curtis attorneys are trained as internationalists with a deep understanding of the cultural as well as business sensitivities associated with conducting business across borders.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 14
• Number of 2nd year associates: 8
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000
• 2nd year: $170,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Boston College, Boalt, Cornell, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, St. John’s, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
The Curtis Summer Program is small and highly selective. Curtis chooses approximately 10 to 15 second-year law students to participate in our program. The summer program, which lasts 10 weeks, starts in late May and ends in July. Grades and scores are not the only criteria for selection. Curtis looks for students who are confident, independent thinkers.

Summer program components:
The summer program is designed to give students a realistic view of the practice of law while at the same time teaching them real-world lawyering skills in a hands-on environment. Our summer associates quickly become assimilated as each summer associate is matched to a partner mentor and an associate advisor.
Summer associates receive assignments which are carefully selected to correspond with their interests and goals. Throughout the summer, summer associates join lawyers in meetings, closings, depositions and court proceedings. Formal training includes lectures, workshops, panel discussions and lunchtime programs on relevant topics.