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

Eye-catching multi-jurisdictional disputes attract a small intake to this plucky New Yorker.

CURTIS' relatively small stature in the Big Apple belies its international footprint. A US firm, with fourteen offices around the world, but under 150 lawyers in the US? That doesn't quite add up. The final piece of the puzzle is the firm's renown for international arbitration expertise.

Investor-state disputes – where Curtis battles for the state in question – are undoubtedly the firm's most headline-grabbing work. Venezuela, Spain, Kuwait, India and Kazakhstan have all called on the firm in the past, and this states'-best-friend reputation also leads to some litigation and non-contentious work. Algeria recently asked the firm for advice on a new energy law which would aim to make the country more investor-friendly. Curtis' diverse overseas presence delivers Chambers Global rankings for corporate in Oman, international trade in the Asia-Pacific region and general business law in Turkmenistan. Closer to home, Chambers US ranks the firm for its international arbitration and trade practices.But let's add some perspective. The litigation department – whose work isn't always so international – is roughly the same size as the international arbitration team. In fact, litigation is the most common destination for associates. Around a fifth of associates head to international arbitration (the total associate intake hovers around ten) – and that's matched by those heading to corporate. The upshot: it's not all international arbitration here. Expect places in that department to be hotly contested. In the DC officemeanwhile, associates have the chance to join the international trade team.

This is a small intake, something our interviewees only saw as a plus. “I didn’t want to be one of 50 associates. I wanted direct contact with partners, which is hard to get at larger firms.” But Joseph Pizzuro, Curtis' managing partner, adds a caveat: “The people who do best here demonstrate an ability to take on responsibility and be proactive in the work that they do. They don't wait passively, and they do more than you ask them to do.”

Strategy and Future



Curtis has had an up-and-down couple of years. Its revenue in 2016 rose by 16.8%, but financial results for 2017 showed a significant decrease: 12.4%. Pizzuro tells us that the firm “lost two partners in the restructuring group at the beginning of 2018. We've had to spend some time rebuilding that.” The Houston office has also lost partners and a partner departed the firm's small IP team in late 2018. Our interviewees had certainly noticed changes: “Corporate has thinned out and so has the bankruptcy practice. I get the sense that we’re consolidating towards a very arbitration and litigation centered firm.” Others wanted more clarity: “I think that strategy needs to be communicated better.” Step forward Pizzuro, who tells us that, on top of rebuilding restructuring “the other part of our future growth is going to come from sovereign representation. Not just contentious work, but project finance and other corporate work. There are some very significant changes on the horizon.”

“There are some very significant changes on the horizon.”

The Work



An assigning partner doles out work to associates. “It's a great system. It’s designed so that work gets spread out in a fairly even and logical way. It helps associates feel like they’re not being pulled in different directions.” Echoing Pizzurro's warnings of high responsibility, most agreed: “Partners aren’t shy about assigning work, so you’re expected to roll your sleeves up right away.”

“I did a lot of drafting that was based on my own document review.”

Litigators found themselves dropped into a range of “standard commercial disputes, antitrust, white collar and financial fraud” and, if they pushed for it, some international arbitration too. All of the above occurs on behalf of large companies and international sovereigns. One source described how, in their experience “the client had been the common denominator. We represent one big client in any dispute they're involved in: executive compensation issues, breach of contract or class action.” Weighing up their responsibility, an associate told us that “all of the commercial contract disputes I’ve worked on have been with small teams, so I’ve been able to draft pleadings and briefs as a second year, as well as working directly with a partner.” Though doc review (a typical junior associate's task) featured, associates were still playing a significant role. “I did a lot of drafting that was based on my own document review, so the substance of it was basically in my hands.” The feeling was that “if you prove your value the firm doesn’t rely on hierarchical structures. After a number of months on a case I was brought along to a hearing and helped to prepare cross examination outlines and prepare witnesses.” 

Litigation clients: Ambac, Glencore, RBS Securities. The firm is defending the sovereign wealth fund of Kazakhstan – Samruk-Kazyna – in a New York court against claims of securities fraud filed by three Panamanian corporations, and three US nationals who feel they were misled over the fund's acquisition of the Kazakhstani BTA Bank.

Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention the high-profile international arbitration work. It's available to a select few, and those who do end up getting involved often didn't focus on it from their first year. The firm is particularly strong in oil and gas, and disputes stem from the breakdown of treaties, but also contracts (labeled as commercial arbitration). Associates’ workloads included document review, collecting facts, preparing summaries and chronologies, and presenting their findings. Working with multiple jurisdictions “brings unique challenges because you’re mostly dealing with intermediaries rather than a direct client.” Because of this, many international arbitrators have foreign language skills. If they're lucky, international arbitration associates may also go abroad for client meetings.

International arbitration clients: Republic of Kazakhstan; Kingdom of Spain; Venezuela. Represented India in six disputes with telecommunications companies following the state's decision to reserve certain frequencies for national security reasons.

Those who join corporate can be involved in mid-market M&A, private equity, securities offerings, corporate governance and regulatory issues. The securities side of things offered associates work putting together “periodic filings, proxy statements and drafting various agreements on corporate governance work. My work is primarily focused on just a couple of clients.” It would be wrong to expect to see work for a fleet of blue-chip clients here. Some deals in this department are international, but much of the work is not.

Corporate clients: BWX (an Australian body and skin care company); MSC (a North American distributor of metalworking and repairs services); GAL Corp (a producer of elevator equipment). The firm represented Australian company BWX in its $39 million acquisition of cosmetics company Mineral Fusion Natural Brands.

Career Development



Interviewees told us about “periodic lunch meetings for different practice groups and some CLE opportunities.” But by themselves, these gestures don't add up to a particularly structured effort to build associates' careers. Some saw this as part of the firm's approach of entrusting associates with responsibility. “It’s the associate’s role to seek to grow. There's no formal career development here, but I don't feel I'm being used up.” Others found this 'ad hoc' system (technically, there are annual reviews, but when they take place depends on partners’ availability) more problematic. “It's definitely an area for improvement. It can be hard to know where you stand in terms of the partner track here. Some people announce their departure only to be told they were close to making partner.” To make things worse, “there’s no associate committee here so there’s no real way to make your concerns known.”

Culture



If you were just getting fired up by the firm's preference for those with some get-up-and-go – it's time to cool off. Associates asserted that “it’s not competitive at all. When someone needs to write a memo they haven’t done before, people will send you theirs for guidance. No one tries to step over each other or prove they’re better than anyone else.” This is a firm with some solid principles. “As law firms go we’re more on the traditional side. You’re expected to be in the office during working hours rather than work from home, and the dress code is formal. If you want to wear jeans and have flexible working, Curtis probably isn’t your best fit.” While the firm does put on events throughout the year, Curtis' young associates were comfortable in judging that “there’s not really an emphasis on socializing outside of working hours – but that doesn’t bother me.”

Hours & Compensation



Associates are required to bill 2,000 hours annually, and sources described an average working day in the office between 9.30am and 7pm – plus extra time at home. This did change: “When there’s a file on I’ll work until 10pm or 11pm a couple of days a week for a month or so, but you learn to take advantage of quieter periods.” Litigators described their schedule as “feast or famine. Work seems to just get busy at the same time.” But fears about meeting the hours target were eased because pro bono and business development activities are counted. Associates' hours generally sounded on the lighter side for BigLaw, but, as sources also noted, “the bonus system doesn’t typically meet market, and there is no longer a market salary.” Associates are paid according to the old market scale until their fourth year.

Diversity & Inclusion



Curtis’ diversity stats show plenty of room to improve – the partnership is only 9% female. But a feeling of inclusivity at the firm is aided by the firm's internationalism. “It’s a very diverse group because so many people speak different languages and come from different backgrounds.” Curtis' figures are much better in this regard: the percentage of ethnic minority partners is one of the best among the firms covered in our guide. A women's group meets once a month – “I know lots of people involved in that” – but the firm lacked any other clear diversity initiatives. “It’s hard to attract diverse candidates if you don’t have a face of diversity.”

Pro Bono



There’s no cap on how many hours associates can spend doing pro bono. We heard about associates helping out with the formation of nonprofits, as well as immigration and custody cases. There’s also “a pro bono deposition program with New York City, where a few of us take depositions once a month on behalf of the City. That's a great way of getting in front of a judge and answering questions.” The firm also lists connections with organizations like Her Justice and the Legal Aid Society. “It’s down to the individual whether they want to do pro bono. Some firms will judge you if you don’t but that’s not the case here.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 5,776
  • Average per US attorney: 45

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 167Interviewees outside OCI: 4

Curtis recruits from just eight to 12 schools each year, but also collects resume drops. Emphasizing Curtis’ small intake, hiring partner Carl Ruggiero tells us: “We look for attorneys who are interested in a career at Curtis, rather than just a job.” Going into more detail on the interviews themselves, he explains: “In order to assess critical thinking skills, we’ll ask candidates to describe interesting assignments they’ve handled during their previous summer, while working for journals or in classes from their first year.” He adds: “We aren’t expecting students to have deep subject matter expertise, but we’re looking for candidates with initiative and intellectual curiosity who have understood - and can speak knowledgably about - difficult legal concepts they’ve wrestled with, whatever the topic may be.” Associate interviewers told us they’re looking for “someone who’s a self starter. The firm doesn’t have a lot of hot heads or big egos; we’re looking for down to earth individuals who enjoy working as part of a team.”

Top tips for this stage:

"There’s no magic formula for making a good impression; every interview (and every interviewer) is unique.  That being said, there are obvious things that a candidate can do to avoid making a poor impression:  make sure your resume and writing sample are free of typos; dress professionally; be on time; avoid canned answers; and be familiar with every item on your resume." - hiring partner Carl Ruggiero.

 

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: 48

Candidates who get through to the callback stage interview with two partners and two associates from the department they’re applying for. While Ruggiero tells us that “callback interviews tend to be fairly comparable to OCI,” he adds: “The additional time with each candidate gives us the chance to have slightly more in-depth conversations. We like to see candidates speak enthusiastically about any recent cases in which the firm has participated.” Associate sources explained: “Because we have small teams there’s nowhere to hide, so you have to be able to communicate well on a consistent basis.”

Top tips for this stage:

"They should do their research about the firm, about our practices and have a reason for wanting to join the firm.  We like to see candidates speak enthusiastically about any recent cases in which the firm has participated." - hiring partner Carl Ruggiero.

 

Summer program

Offers: 18

Acceptances: 8

Curtis’ summer program operates on a non-rotational system, so associates spend the full ten weeks in their chosen practice area. Ruggiero explains: “Summer associates will receive substantive assignments from within their departments which are carefully selected to correspond with their interests and goals. Our primary goal is to give summer associates the same type of work we would give a first or second-year associate.” There is a chance for summers to let their hair down and so some mingling, however: “We typically have one social event per week such as a baseball game, Broadway show or bowling.”

Top tips for this stage:

"Always ask questions and speak up if there is something you would like to learn more about or if there is anything for which you need clarification." - hiring partner Carl Ruggiero.

And finally...

"Don't provide canned answers or try to tell us what we want to hear.  We’re more likely to get a sense of who you are - and you’re more likely to figure out if we’re the right fit for you - through an authentic conversation." - hiring partner Carl Ruggiero.

Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP

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

  • Head office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Worldwide revenue: $155,000,000
  • Partners (US): 52
  • Associates (US): 74
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Krystal Reese (kreese@curtis.com)
  • Hiring partner: Carl Ruggiero
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 6
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 2Ls: 10
  • Summer salary 2019: 2Ls: $180,000
  • Split summers offered: No
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

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, 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
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:

Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, NYU, St. John’s, and UPenn

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Targeted search, resume collects, write-ins, and hiring from judicial clerkships

Summer associate profile:
The Curtis Summer Program is small and highly selective. Curtis chooses approximately five to ten second-year law students to participate in our program. The summer program, which lasts ten 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 also 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 through our dedicated team of assigning associates. Throughout the summer, summer associates join our lawyers in meetings, closings, depositions and court proceedings. Formal trainings includes lectures, workshops, panel discussions and lunchtime programs on relevant topics.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.curtis.com
Linkedin: curtis-mallet-prevost-colt-&-mosle-llp
Twitter: @curtislawfirm

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded Recognised Practitioner
    • Tax Recognised Practitioner
    • International Arbitration (Band 3)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)