The globe’s the limit for this tight-knit New Yorker.
IT says a lot for your firm’s clout when whole countries are calling on your expertise in the international arena. Whether it’s India’s $5.5 billion investment treaty dispute with Vodafone or a $19.9 billion oil and gas arbitration case brought against Venezuela, Curtis is at the forefront of this mega-money area of law. “It’s the only real place to do international arbitration,” according to proud (albeit blatantly biased) juniors. Yet more impressively, the firm fights on this scale with fewer than 150 attorneys across the US. “We punch above our weight,” one source said. “We win deals and cases typical of bigger firms.”
Don’t take their word for it – both Chambers USA and Chambers Global recognize the firm’s international arbitration expertise, and the latter plonks Curtis at the top table in the Asia-Pacific region for international trade and WTO law. This isn’t a disputes-only firm and it does offer a smattering of corporate practices, but sources anticipate their prominence will dwindle in the coming years as “Curtis moves toward leaning on its advocacy work.”
In both the New York and DC offices (home to ten and three second- and third-year associates respectively when we came calling; the firm also has a small base in Houston), staffing partners are on hand to assign work, though our insiders found that “most staffing is done based on relationships with partners you’ve built previously.” Building such relationships is easier with fewer colleagues to introduce yourself to: “You’re not one in 300, you’re contributing right away in a small team where you have a direct impact. The paradox of Curtis is it’s a smaller firm with such an international reach.” Travel opportunities are available in most departments, arising on a matter-specific basis.
“The paradox of Curtis is it’s a smaller firm with such an international reach.”
International arbitration at Curtis divides into investment and commercial arbitration subgroups. The former involves representing states that are being sued by investors over oil and gas, construction, mining or renewable energy projects; in the latter “disputes can be between investors and countries, but more often it’s business versus business and their contract stipulates disputes be resolved through arbitration.” Juniors are free to dabble in both sides of the practice and “didn’t expect to get so much drafting experience at such an early stage.” One recalled that “being given a filing all by myself was a highlight. Drafting the entire brief down to all the small details from legal authorities, preparing for submission and then the tribunal, I did the whole thing! It was a great experience to take a big-picture view and understand how to manage it all.” Collaboration with overseas offices is a must, especially when it comes to gathering and reviewing documents from all over the world.
The picture is similarly global in DC’s international trade squad, representing “exclusively foreign companies, governments and US importers in administrative proceedings.” Trump administration reforms have kept the team “very busy. The practice used to be cyclical with highs and lows; now there’s a steadier stream of cases including new types of trace proceedings.” Responsibility was high here too, with sources both shocked – “I’ve been able to speak at four hearings!” – and pleased about travel opportunities including possible trips to Europe from the first year.
International arbitration clients: Republic of Albania, Republic of Cameroon, Cyprus. Represented Venezuela in a $21 billion+ ICSID dispute over three petroleum exploration development projects.
Things take a more domestic slant in the New York litigation department where the “bread and butter is state court commercial matters. They’re not 'huge' huge, but significant, and are more New York-focused.” The Great Recession triggered an avalanche of work into the department; in today’s “normalized market” a mix of fraud cases, mortgage issues and contract disputes come through the doors. Common junior tasks here include memo writing, research and drafting briefs. “Not a lot of thought is given as to whether someone’s a first, second or third year,” we heard. “You’ll be asked to do whatever needs to be done.” There is international work here too, sometimes with a real human dimension: “One part of a dispute involved a Middle Eastern country impacted by war. I had to look at documents, news and press releases about ISIS attacks and realized that disputes aren't just business-to-business, they can involve an entire country with real people. It was the first time I realized how important cases like this are."
Litigation clients: United Nations, Lehman Brothers, RBS Securities. Successfully represented the Venezuelan state oil company in the US Supreme Court.
Corporate at Curtis means mid-market M&A as well as private equity, securities and corporate counseling. Our sources were advising shareholders in companies based both in and outside the US and got to “speak directly with clients. I hear from friends at other firms doing more administrative tasks, but I do interesting and engaging things like giving my opinions in meetings or drafting memoranda.” First drafts of share purchases and shareholder agreements also tend to fall to juniors. Curtis isn’t a corporate-heavy firm and clients aren’t as massive as at some of the larger New York firms, but “since the team is small you always have something to do. We don’t have 15 closings every day, but I’ve had great exposure and responsibility on deals.”
Corporate clients: BWX, Glencore, DRS. Represented elevator equipment manufacturer GAL in its sale to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital.
Career Development & Culture
Small junior class sizes mean there’s an informal approach to training, which suits some more than others. “There’s not really a program in place to help young attorneys to progress,” we heard. “There’s not a lot of structure around business development or practicing law, I think it’s incumbent on each individual attorney to progress.” Some saw it as a matter of personal responsibility for associates to champion themselves: “I see no shame in humbly asking questions, but if someone does, that may affect their experience. Partners don’t hesitate to help you and they’re mindful about your development.”
“Instead of waiting for growth, it’s on you to seek and shape it if you want to be successful here.”
The bottom line is that you’d be a doofus to wait at your desk for opportunities to come to you: “Instead of waiting for growth, it’s on you to seek and shape it if you want to be successful here.” This is especially true of the more “relationship-driven, much smaller” DC base; sources in New York described their office as “a bit more formal.” Despite their go-getter attitude, some juniors bemoaned a lack of transparency around career progression and initial development. “It’s the biggest area for possible improvement,” one proposed. “The lack of transparency surrounding the partnership track isn’t as concerning as general lack of communication around our roles and the general health of the firm.” Others contended that such information is there, “you just have to ask. It’s all about you speaking up.”
While “experienced and confident people who are ready to take on a challenge tend to do well here,” interviewees clarified that “there’s no competition to outperform each other and people here are willing to help you out.” With nearly 200 years of history behind it, one can perhaps forgive Curtis for being "quite traditional – we dress formally as we like to come across as professionals and partners keep up the old school culture,” though some went as far as to dub the firm a “stiff old white-shoe outfit.” Very visual. The social scene is more trendy bar than old folks' home – think happy hours, post-closing drinks and group lunches. “It’s not a party firm, but neither is it a temple,” a source concluded.
Pro Bono, Hours & Compensation
“The firm is supportive of pro bono but there’s not a huge emphasis or requirement to do it.” Pro bono work does count 100% toward yearly billing targets and “among associates there’s a lot of drive to pick it up,” whether that’s immigration disputes in DC or a collaboration with the Brooklyn Defender Services in New York. “I was drafting statutory documents and dealing with tax forms – it wasn’t only doing some good, but great experience for me to take to paying clients,” a source noted. Curtis has a dedicated partner to oversee pro bono opportunities.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 3,185
- Average per US attorney: 30
“They tend not to screw you over. They don’t want you working late for its own sake.”
Billable hours: 1,800 target
Our insiders suggested that "there’s an expectation to reach the target but nothing official" and described the system as “kind of a black box” but were fairly relaxed about it all. Fourteen-hour days are “hellish” but “rare” at Curtis; ten hours is a more typical stint, and sources said: “They tend not to screw you over. They don’t want you working late for its own sake.” Even longer days in the office didn’t prompt many complaints: “It comes with the territory and I think I expected worse,” one interviewee said. “There’s not a huge weekend work expectation and when you do have to you might just be catching up rather than constantly replying to pressing emails.” We did hear some complaints about the firm failing to match the market on salaries.
Diversity & Inclusion
With international scope comes an international community and “lots of people with overseas backgrounds, including women. Curtis is a firm that really represents its international practice within its workforce.” Some of our sources noticed a generational divide when it came to the firm’s approach to diversity, suggesting that “some old school partners see it as window dressing, but the younger level really do care and take it seriously in the firm’s recruitment efforts.” There was generally more positive feedback about gender balance than ethnic diversity, and many hoped that demographics in the partnership would grow to reflect the rest of the firm.
“Curtis is a firm that really represents its international practice within its workforce.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 160
Interviewees outside OCI: 1
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.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 62
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.
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.
"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,
- 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
- Main recruitment contact: Krystal Reese (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- 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.
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.
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.
Recruitment website: www.curtis.com
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
USA - Nationwide
- International Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)