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

With over four times as many international offices as at home, Curtis welcomes worldly-wise wunderkinds to its select annual intake.

FOUNDED as long ago as 1830, Curtis grew from New York to become a blueprint for modern day BigLaw firms in terms of global expansion. One of the first to go overseas, this arbitration kingpin now hosts a 14-strong international office network, as well as domestic hubs in the Big Apple, DC and Houston. It's little surprise that hiring partner Carl Ruggiero informs us: “We have our traditions, and are looking for people who'll buy into our culture. Many of our lawyers speak two or three languages, and a worldly sophistication and ease in working across different jurisdictions will set you in good stead.” That said, languages aren't a prerequisite (see the Get Hired section below for which practices seek what).

Despite boasting offices in locations as far-flung as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Dubai, Curtis' smallish intake cuts its teeth in a New York office that “is small enough so that everything is pretty flexible.” As one rookie continued, “we're not quite big enough to need to bureaucratize and formalize everything, so if you know what you want to try out then it's just a question of going out and finding it.” Unusually for Curtis, revenue in 2015 took a dive from $187 million to just over $151 million.

The Work

Curtis takes around ten new first-year associates per year. 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. Rookies' destinations are usually predetermined based on preferences expressed when applying. Nevertheless,“there's no iron-clad rule pinning you down once you're there.”

Interviewees rated the “wide range of different practices” offered in each stream. Corporate newbies are “encouraged to be proactive from the off,” approaching partners to find work catering to their interests. An assigning partner is on hand for those who need steering in the right direction, but “after providing you with openings for certain partners, they become more of a last resort.” Signing up as members of a pooled corporate department exposes associates to a varied docket, with international arbitration, investment management, IP, M&A and private equity & funds all in the mix. Corporate are big on client contact from day one, and “although it does feel like you're in at the deep end, partners are happy to walk you through everything beforehand.”

Significantly, Curtis' esteemed international arbitration practice falls under the corporate bracket. On smaller arbitrations, rookies “work one-on-one with partners,” and are kept busy writing memos and even drafting filings. “On larger cases, you're the go-to team member for all things factual,” recounted one arbitrator. “The mid-level associates take on more of the drafting responsibilities, so I'm down in the trenches, looking at received documents and seeing if I can piece them together.”

"Most partners are keen to include us."

In contrast to Curtis' corporate and international arbitration departments, the firm's litigation and restructuring groups' clients and concerns are largely homegrown. Litigators enrol into a system “a little more centralized” than their deal-striking contemporaries, working in correspondence with an assigning partner to fill up their schedules. “Inevitably you'll end up developing working relationships with certain partners,” reasoned one junior, “so you just need to make sure you keep everyone updated.” The spectrum here is equally wide-ranging, encompassing anything from complex commercial litigation to antitrust class action conspiracy cases, and government investigations to bankruptcy litigation. Beginning with “a lot of legal research, memo writing, and the occasional bit of doc review,” associates progress to drafting court documents, court briefs and deposition guidelines as soon as they've proved they're ready. “Most partners are keen to include us in strategic calls and phone calls with the rest of the team,” which helps to facilitate such progression.

Training & Development

Litigators and deal-makers alike were delighted to report that “there is the complete expectation that juniors have something to bring to the table from the beginning.” Curtis' staffing model gives weight to such claims, demonstrating “a global approach” that matches individual skill sets to specific cases. “The firm's mentality is to make the best use of its lawyers around the world,” elaborated one source. “When a matter comes in and a team needs assembling, the top concern isn't geographic proximity, but whose experience best fits the client's needs.” Respondents found this “a helpful way to push forward your professional development,” adding “if a junior associate possesses greater relevant industry knowledge or language skills than someone a few years their senior, it's likely that they’ll be drafted in.”

“There is the complete expectation that juniors have something to bring to the table from the beginning.”

It's fortunate that juniors receive such great development opportunities on-the-job, as the annual review was judged to be “somewhat of an afterthought.” Bi-annual check-ins would be preferred, although those we spoke with generally approved of partners' ability to voice their expectations. If associates wish to discuss their progress, they can always bend the ear of their assigned mentoring partner, though callers agreed that “depending on which colleagues you hit it off with, you may choose to seek that support informally.”

Pro Bono 

Pro bono work does count hour-for-hour toward associates' billable hours target. On average, attorneys racked up a decent 63 hours of pro bono in 2015. Some of our sources, however, had not done any at all. Why? Two main reasons: many of Curtis' young-guns found themselves themselves “too busy with paying clients to fit it in with my workload,” and those who had found that “some partners – not all – have a bit of a 'Why aren't you billing hours?' attitude.” But “many do encourage it,” one source pointed out, “though there aren't many incentives to get involved. If we're interested, then the onus is on us to ask about it.” In fact, there is a dedicated pro bono coordinator (a partner) who sends out opportunities to get involved.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 4,606
  • Average per US attorney: 63


Interviewees were also somewhat critical of Curtis' efforts to promote diversity.  “It's fair to say that you do hear a lot of different languages spoken around the office.” However, they reckoned “that says more about the international scope of our work than the scope of our recruitment.”

They felt that the gender balance was fairly even at lower levels, and female interviewees were encouraged by the presence of a women's initiative, which “holds monthly discussion groups, and two networking events every year.” Elsewhere, though, “there's little in place to help promote a healthy mix.” There are no affinity groups for LGBT or ethnic minority lawyers, but this is hardly surprising considering “you could count the number of African-American attorneys here on one hand.”


“It's the fanciest place I've ever worked in,” gushed one associate when asked about the New York mothership, “and it's very comfortable too.” The interior styling speaks to Curtis' history: “Old school and fairly formal, decked out in hunter green marble.” Bringing it all up to date is “a nice selection of modern paintings,” though the real eye-catcher appeared to be the “amazing view when the sun sets over the East River.” In recent years there have been whispers of a proposed office relocation, though juniors were delighted to announce that “the firm recently signed a new seven-year lease, so we're here to stay! It's great news: the location just couldn't be beaten. We're two blocks from Grand Central station, so there isn't any part of the city that isn't easily accessible.”

"The location just couldn't be beaten."

Besides New York, Curtis houses domestic offices in DC and Houston. Further afield, the firm has 14 international offices, covering Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, East Asia and Latin America.


In another nod to its vintage New Yorker status, Curtis' sharp-suited associates are expected to look the part on company time. “It may come across as old fashioned, but none of us seems to complain.” In fact, they felt that “putting the effort into dressing properly makes us feel more professional. We want our appearance to suggest a commitment to high standards, because that's true of our working lives. If you're a lawyer in a sweater and jeans, there's a chance clients won't want to put their trust in you straight away.” But don't burn those chinos and summer dresses just yet: “We do dress down on Fridays.”

"People aren't afraid to show gratitude for your endeavors."

The New York office environment is friendly enough but lacking on after-hours socializing, associates said: “Every once in a while we'll go for drinks, but that's pretty rare. When we do go out, it's more because we're conscious of the fact that we probably ought to.” This “certainly isn't because we don't get on – people here are very thoughtful, respectful of your time, and aren't afraid to show gratitude for your endeavors. It's just that after work everyone prefers to do their own thing, and we're all pretty comfortable with that.”

Juniors felt management could plug them in more to decision-making: “When asked, most partners are pretty good at explaining why decisions have been made, but information isn't always volunteered as freely as we might like,” grumbled one. “There have been overseas office launches where the first I heard came on the opening day. Perhaps partners just assume that we know more about the business than we actually do.”

Hours & Compensation

For associates, the most frustrating aspect was the confusion at bonus time. “People say that the billing target is 2,000 hours,” reported more than one interviewee, “but whether they're awarded on seniority or merit beats me.” Another added: “Some people say pro bono work doesn't necessarily count. Others say it all does. A few centrally accessible guidelines would really help to put a lot of speculation to rest.” Fortunately, “if you don't make your hours it's not make-or-break.” For the record, associates become bonus eligible when they hit 2,000 hours, and unlimited pro bono hours can count as billable. The firm told us it sends out a memo each year outlining bonus criteria, and that exceptional performance would warrant a market bonus.

"You may need to negotiate time-zones when scheduling.”

Bonuses aside, juniors were broadly happy with the remuneration they receive. “Our salary is in line with all the major New York firms and I've only stayed until midnight once or twice,” said a second-year. If corporate or international arbitration work is your thing then be aware that “you may need to negotiate time-zones when scheduling,” meaning “6am starts occasionally pop up.” The office usually starts clearing out at “around seven,” and “there's no expectation that you'll unthinkingly sacrifice your weekend.” That's not to say that Saturdays are off-limits, but “working weekends is very much the exception to the rule.”

Strategy & Future

“It's been another successful year for our international arbitration group,” Curtis' CEO George Kahale tells us. “We're representing more states and state-owned companies than ever before, and have once again fortified our reputation as true market leader in the field.” Kahale also expressed delight at the bankruptcy team's recent performance, and cites both areas as “key to Curtis' future growth plans, alongside our litigation and corporate international practices.”

"We don't have any grand plans to double in size or make big lateral acquisitions."

The firm's strategy as a whole is one of measured investment: “BigLaw is a tough and competitive business, and we don't have any grand plans to double in size or make big lateral acquisitions,” he declares. “Our main focus is to maintain and strengthen our market position.” Putting its money where its mouth is, Curtis recently bumped four corporate and international corporate associates up to partner, as well as four more in international arbitration.

Get Hired

Sidestepping Curtis' polyglot rep, hiring partner Carl Ruggiero insists that “foreign language skills certainly aren't a benchmark requirement. Sure, there can occasionally be international aspects to litigation, tax, trusts or bankruptcy, but it's very rare that anyone would be expected to deviate from English in these practices. The same goes for servicing US-based corporate clients.” However, those covering international arbitration or international corporate work had found that “languages are important, and can open doors to new clients and new responsibilities.” Ruggiero adds that “we're not talking high school French.  We want native speakers: multilingual, multicultural associates who possess an intimate understanding of the jurisdictions we service. We've found that foreign-trained lawyers with a US LLM often do well here.”

"If you're slacking you'll be found out fairly quickly.”

“The firm is also looking for applicants who understand the implications of being at a firm this size,” believed one junior. “People will know who you are and what you're working on, so there's no room to hide.” Curtis is not necessarily looking for extroverts, but “you need to be willing to ask and answer questions to move in the right direction. If you're slacking you'll be found out fairly quickly.”

Some recruitment tips from hiring partner Carl Ruggiero


Chambers Associate: How many associates does Curtis typically look to employ each year?

Carl Ruggiero: Fifteen or so, all of whom will be based in New York. Five of these will head to our litigation department, another five head to corporate, and the final five go to international arbitration. Occasionally, we'll take an extra associate in to groups such as trusts & estates or restructuring & insolvency, subject to business need. Arbitration also recruits internally, and this year alone two or three second years have transferred into the department. In fact, Curtis is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, so a tip-off can really open up new doors. We allow our associates tremendous flexibility to create their own career, and juniors are expected to construct their own path by pursuing areas that catch their interest. You may start off in litigation, but that doesn't mean it's where you'll end up.

CA: What is the general scope of your recruiting drive?

CR: We only tend to hire junior associates for the New York office, so naturally we speak to a lot of schools in the North East. Boston College, Columbia, Cornell, Fordham, Harvard, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Yale and St. John’s are all schools where we do on-campus recruiting. Elsewhere, we also conduct OCIs at Berkeley, Duke, Georgetown, Stanford, UVA and University of Chicago. We also regularly recruit from LLM programs, particularly for our international arbitration group where foreign language skills can really help to win you work.

CA: What's the perceived benefit of employing a foreign-trained lawyer with an LLM from a US school?

CR: LLM students are really suited to the work that we cover here at Curtis. It means we get to hire an attorney who's fully clued up on the United States' legal system, but who also presents the additional benefit of understanding of one or more foreign markets that could fit our international needs. In fact, it's a fantastic recruiting tool for both parties. Looking a few years down the line, the associate could either stay here at the New York office, move on elsewhere, or even return to their home jurisdiction. Either way they'll have developed a consummate understanding of the US legal system, so it's definitely mutually beneficial.

CA: Just how important are foreign language skills for associates?

CR: Well, foreign language skills certainly aren't a benchmark requirement. Sure, there can occasionally be international aspects to litigation, tax, trusts or bankruptcy, but it's very rare that anyone would be expected to deviate from English in these practices. The same goes for servicing US-based corporate clients: if you're predominantly working on securities fund formation or financing matters, then your ability to communicate in a foreign language is likely to be irrelevant. That being said, our corporate department does work with a lot of clients from non-US entities, with projects matters stemming from locations as disparate as Kazakhstan, Mexico and South Africa. In fact, sub-Saharan Africa in general has become increasingly busy for us over the past few years. Having a grasp on a relevant language is a good way to help better serve such clients, so when we say we're looking to employ candidates with strong foreign language skills, we're not talking high school French. We want native speakers: multilingual, multicultural associates who posses an intimate understanding of the jurisdictions we service.

CA: Are there any opportunities for associates to move between offices?

CR: There certainly are. Mid-level associates will often do a stint in one of our non-US offices. The chances are slimmer in litigation, but there are still occasional possibilities that crop up. It's also worth mentioning that all of the trainee solicitors in the London office are flown in to New York to join in with the summer program. We're a fully integrated law firm and we feel that it's a great way to make sure that on both sides of the Atlantic people are comfortable calling each other up and working together under the Curtis banner.

CA: Does the firm's smaller intake have any significant effect upon the associate experience?

CR: Our intake is smaller than many of our competitors, so when hiring we really do look for people who will spend their whole careers with us. Of course, that doesn't always happen – there are lots of reasons why all 15 don't eventually make partner – but it does mean that juniors can expect a lot more attention than if they were one of 50. The effect of this is that our training program is less formally structured. We feel that with the level of one-on-one support juniors gain, it's not strictly necessary to sit in a classroom for a month telling them exactly what they can expect to encounter once they begin working. We believe it's far more engaging and beneficial to get associates working immediately, as any queries they may have can be smoothed out by a senior colleague on the spot.

Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP

101 Park Avenue,
New York,
NY 10178-0061

  • Head Office: New York City, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Worldwide revenue: $151,500,000
  • Partners (US): 52
  • Associates (US): 60
  • Summer Salary 2016 
  • 1Ls: $3,077 per week
  • 2Ls: $3,077 per 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 2016: 10
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 8 offers for 2Ls, 8 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: 8
• Number of 2nd year associates: 9
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000
• 2nd year: $170,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
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, 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 early August. 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.