With a tiny intake and plenty of exciting opportunities on offer, this arbitration and finance specialist is perfect for trainees keen to jump in at the deep end.
US and them
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle may have more names than trainees, but don't let that put you off. The firm only recruits one or two a year, but this New York City native's international scope more than compensates: it's got 17 offices across metropolises as diverse as Houston, Almaty, Dubai and Rome. 2016 brought a new addition to Curtis's ranks: a Geneva office, which according to Winta Jarvis, deputy managing partner of Curtis's London hub, “will work on arbitration, tax, private wealth management and investment funds.”
The London practice covers international arbitration, corporate and investment management work, servicing a fair whack of governments, multinationals and state-owned companies in locations across the globe. “Our arbitration practice continues to go from strength to strength,” says Jarvis, “but over the next few years we will also be aiming to beef up London's litigation practice. It's a logical adjunct to having a strong arbitration offering, and we'll be on the look out for senior litigation laterals.” We questioned Jarvis on whether this will have any bearing on Curtis's petite trainee intake. “We'd certainly be interested in candidates with an interest in disputes, but we're happy with where we are in terms of numbers for the moment. We like taking on a very limited number of trainees, as it allows us to offer them a high degree of responsibility from the start.”
No one will be seated
Curtis's training contract is non-rotational, so there's no formal seat system in place. Instead, trainees get their own office and are left to pursue whatever work takes their fancy (as long as SRA requirements are satisfied). “The firm's culture is very much geared towards allowing you to pursue your interests,” said one source. “You're welcome to try out everything and anything that's available, but it's up to you to approach fee earners and forge relationships.” This may sound nerve-wracking, but “it's really not an intimidating process,” interviewees assured us. “Winta helps with allocation if you're short of work, and another partner monitors workflow, so you're not just left to flounder.”
The whole ask-and-you-shall-receive process is helped by the fact that “people's doors are always open. If you show you're keen and make yourself known then something usually comes up.” This enterprising approach had even brought in work from Curtis's overseas outposts. “I reached out to partners in Oman and they staffed me on one of their disputes proceedings,” one interviewee recounted. “I even attended a mediation in London on their behalf.”
“Trainees are heavily relied on from the start.”
Our sources had also recently worked with partners in Dubai, Paris and New York, and at a trainee level ties are particularly strong with the global HQ in the Big Apple. Towards the end of the training contract, rookies head to New York for between five and ten weeks to participate in the firm's US summer associate programme. “They still work on their UK caseload, but being based out there helps trainees to get to know the New York associates and build relationships with them,” says Winta Jarvis. “We've found that when trainees come back to London, both sides find it a lot easier to pick up the phone and work together seamlessly.”
Sources agreed that one great aspect of training at Curtis is that “you're essentially an associate in everyone else's eyes.” Indeed, associates stateside hit the ground running fresh from law school. “You're no one's pencil sharpener here,” was how one rookie put it. “Trainees are heavily relied on from the start.” Newbies need to be willing to get stuck in: “There are only a small number of trainees in the office so if you're the type to shy away from new responsibilities then Curtis isn't for you.”
Logically then, “a lot of the training comes on the job.” Nevertheless, trainees are “invited to top-up training sessions as we go along, at which people in the office take turns to present topical updates on new developments in the law.” Being part of a multinational firm also helps expand trainees' legal understanding. As one recounted, “we hold regular M&A and private equity videocon meetings, which bring together colleagues from around the world. That really helps you gain an understanding of how certain forces can affect particular markets around the globe differently.” Trainees also partake in a few sit-down reviews with Winta Jarvis over the course of the training contract to ensure that both sides are happy with where things are headed. “We don't have a seat system so nothing concrete is put in the diary,” one interviewee explained, “but the idea is to have one every six months or so.”
Meet the Stans
Curtis's arbitration team primarily acts for governments and state-owned entities during investor-state arbitrations, though in keeping with the firm's expansion efforts on the contentious front it's getting increasingly involved in English litigation. In recent years the group has acted for governments across the world, including India, Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Cyprus and Ghana. Recently, lawyers from the Paris, Mexico City, Istanbul and London offices teamed up to successfully repudiate a $200 million damages claim brought against the government of Kazakhstan by Ruby Roz, a poultry company operating in the country. Trainees with experience in the team told of “undertaking a lot of legal research across various jurisdictions” and “managing materials for hearings – cases span multiple jurisdictions so that can be an absolutely enormous task comprising hundreds of exhibits.” One source told us they'd also “sat with a client the night before a hearing to work on cross-examinations of witnesses,” as well as “acting as the main billing contact for a big African client.”
Those working with the corporate finance team can also expect to work with a lot of state-owned and state-related entities. “When I started I was heavily involved in a debt financing,” one interviewee remembered. “We acted for the borrower, a government entity which was attempting to secure a syndicated loan from a number of investment bank lenders. There were just three of us on the deal, so I was instantly in the middle of the action, taking notes in meetings, summarising different positions from conference calls, and making sure that stances on particular clauses and terms were recorded.” The department also covers energy work – “Africa is an increasingly important region in that respect” – with the odd bit of general corporate M&A work floating around too.
The litigation team deals chiefly with ad hoc matters stemming from arbitration rulings – think enforcement of arbitral awards through the London courts – but there's also some referral work from the corporate finance and funds teams. One interview reported: “My role was to focus on civil procedure rules and follow the necessary steps to make an application to the courts. I've had to learn how to make an application, what to include, whether or not I need a witness statement and so on.”
“You're essentially an associate in everyone else's eyes.”
Summer 2016 brought a bit of a facelift to Curtis's London office, located just “a stone's throw from the Bank of England.” Works were still under way at the time of our calls, but the City digs are having new showers fitted in the basement, complete with flashing disco lights! “This is handy as many of us cycle in to work,” trainees enthused. The showers may also come in handy after Monday's five-a-side footy matches, which “draw a respectable crowd every week,” or for the Curtis bunch training for the Great North Run. Overall though, sources noted, “we're not a massively sociable office,” and after-work gatherings “tend to be fairly impromptu.”
Curtis trainees noted that, typically of rookies at US firms, they are “very well remunerated.” But when it comes to hours, we didn't hear any typical horror stories. Rather, “people often don't get in till 10am,” and on a good day “the office can clear out by 7pm.” That said, we did hear of the odd 4am finish, but “on the whole the hours are extremely reasonable. There's an expectation that you'll meet your deadlines, but you're given the autonomy to achieve that in your own way. If you're tired and need sleep, you're trusted to do what you need to.”
In 2016 Curtis kept on its sole qualifier.
How to get a Curtis training contract
Training contract deadline (2017): 31 March 2017
Curtis receives between 100 and 200 applications each year for its two available training contracts. There's no formal vacation scheme, but the firm does invite some candidates to undertake work placements. The firm recruits trainees to start in the same year – so in March 2017 it is recruiting trainees to start in September 2017.
Training contract applications begin with a covering letter and CV. “The covering letter should be well written, showing that the applicant has done some due diligence on Curtis,” says London deputy managing partners Winta Jarvis. “If someone is particularly interested in the firm's arbitration work or its international reach, they should tell us. As for the CV, we like to see good academics as well as some relevant work experience.”
The firm holds three rounds of interviews. Around 18 candidates are invited to the first, which involves a half-hour “quite general and relaxed chat” with Jarvis. “It's a chance for me to get to know them and find out a bit about where they've come from,” he says. “They usually meet the current trainees too.”
Between eight and ten interviewees are invited back for a second interview. Here candidates speak to some of the other partners in the London office, and it's likely they'll chat to some current associates as well.
Only three candidates are called in for the final interview, which takes place with London managing partner Carl Ruggiero. After that, “the final decision is made collaboratively based on the views of everyone,” Jarvis tells us. He adds: “The collective aim of the interview process is for prospective trainees to meet and get to know as many people at Curtis as possible. That way, when they start as a trainee they'll be confident being around everyone, and they'll hit the ground running.”
According to our sources, “you need to be proactive to get in here – the kind of person who's up and about and actively seeking work. They give you a lot of autonomy, and you have to be able to deal with that.” Sources went on to mention that a small office means small teams, “so it's really important you're amicable and down to earth.”
Interview with London deputy managing partner Curtis
Student Guide: Are there any highlights from the last year you think it's important for our readers to know about?
WJ: We opened an office in Geneva, which will work on arbitration, tax, private wealth management and investment funds. We also opened a Rome office in 2014, which will be a great complement to our existing Italian presence in Milan. We now have 17 offices globally, so there have been some real positive developments on that front.
SG: What will the London office's strategy entail in the years ahead?
WJ: Corporate finance, arbitration and investment funds are our core areas. We're not looking to expand into more specialist areas like pensions, employment or property at the moment, but that may change. We'll maybe look to build our tax practice, and we also see opportunity in our core areas in East Asia, so Singapore could be a good location for us, but that's a remote plan. We've just opened two new offices!
Arbitration is always a popular talking point and our arbitration practice continues to go from strength to strength, but over the next few years we will also be aiming to beef up London's litigation practice. It's a logical adjunct to having a strong arbitration offering, and we'll be on the lookout for senior litigation laterals.
SG: Do you anticipate that having any bearing on the number of trainees Curtis will recruit over the next few years?
WJ: We'd certainly be interested in candidates with an interest in disputes and corporate work, but we're happy with where we are in terms of numbers for the moment. We like taking on a very limited number of trainees, as it allows us to offer them a high degree of responsibility from the start.
SG: How optimistic are you about the future of the firm? What challenges does your firm and firms like it still face?
WJ: I don't think Brexit will effect us at all really, as our practice is purely international. Much of the work we cover in the London office comes from Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, so I really don't anticipate a departure from the EU affecting us here or indeed globally. If anything, the amount of legal advisory work we take on is likely to increase, as foreign companies with operations in the UK attempt to navigate the new structures being put in place.
SG: Have you noticed any changes in Curtis' recruitment process over the past few years?
WJ: We've been recruiting more trainees direct from university and sponsoring them through their GDL and/or LPC. Most of our successful applicants tend to be from Russell Group universities.
We've not changed much when it comes to the recruitment process. We aim to take on one to two trainees each year and have done so for several years now. We haven't taken on a trainee for 2016 as we need to manage our needs effectively and make sure we bring in quality candidates. We have a few trainees signed up for next year and the year after. Our intake is very limited, but those who join get a high degree of responsibility.
SG: What sort of person thrives at the firm? How can a candidate really impress at interview?
WJ: We look for people that have a clear interest in international matters, and are willing to fully involve themselves in all aspects of office life. We want people who will contribute, be proactive and come up with ideas. People who are excited at the challenge of substantially increasing the size and coverage of this small office over the next few years.
Curtis around the world
Curtis' international coverage is a point of pride for the firm, so read on if you want to brush up on its global profile.
The firm's New York headquarters is its biggest office by far, with a current headcount of around 120 lawyers. Curtis set up shop in the Big Apple all the way back in 1830, and didn't add another office to its ranks until 1963, when it opened a Washington DC base. Today, Curtis' New York lawyers focus on corporate work but are also well regarded for their commercial litigation know-how and for international arbitration matters.
DC (like London, Muscat, Milan, Frankfurt, Paris and Buenos Aires) houses around 20 lawyers and focuses on similar areas to New York. The firm's third US office is in Houston, a hub for energy-related work. It opened in 1992 and is home to just a handful of lawyers. You can read their more about the experiences of junior lawyers in Curtis' US offices in our US sister publication Chambers Associate.
In the 70s, Curtis hopped across the pond and launched in both London and Paris. Paris-based lawyers busy themselves by advising a whole host of international corporations, securities purchasers, credit institutions, foreign governments and investment funds. In 1990, Germany beckoned: Curtis opted for an opening in Frankfurt's financial district, where the firm caters to local and foreign clients' needs.
The firm's European offering grew again in 2008, when an Italian law firm became part of the New Yorker's portfolio, giving it a presence in Milan. This was followed in 2014 by an opening in Rome, after two prominent Italian lawyers – Alfonso de Marco and Sergio Esposito Farber – decided to join Curtis' ranks. Both had experience in the banking, finance and real estate sectors. Curtis' managing partner Joe Pizzurro told our sister publication Chambers Associate that: “They had to find a place to land and we were a natural fit for them. Milan is the industrial capital of Italy, while Rome is its political capital, so having those two offices in those two cities is a natural marriage.”
Switzerland was up next, with a Geneva office opening its doors in spring 2016. The Swiss base “will work on arbitration, tax, private wealth management and investment funds,” reveals deputy managing partner at Curtis' London office Winta Jarvis. “We now have 17 offices globally, so there have been some real positive developments on that front in the past few years.”
Over in the Middle East, Curtis has planted its flag in both Muscat (1997) and Dubai (2008). A base in Istanbul was added in 2007 to support the work conducted in the Middle East, so lawyers across these three locations frequently work together on a variety of matters.
Curtis' presence in Asia was bolstered in 2008, when the firm targeted Kazakhstan and opened its doors in Astana and Almaty. These offices often collaborate and focus on infrastructure development and public projects, as well as investment management and international arbitration. Lawyers here are fluent in English, Russian and Kazakh. An outpost in Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, was established in 2011.
A 2014 launch in Beijing had been on the cards for some time, according to Joe Pizzurro: “We brought in an international trade group in the DC office three years ago, and those folks have major client relationships in China and with various parts of the Chinese government. So it was always part of the plan to open in Beijing, as a presence there also allows us to invest in countries like Korea and Vietnam."
Last but by no means least: Latin America. Curtis planted a seed in Mexico City in 1991, where a dozen lawyers currently work. After operating in Argentina via alliances, the firm eventually launched a Buenos Aires office in 2012. Lawyers in both locations are bilingual and work across most countries in the region on a mix of project finance, IP, M&A and investment management matters.
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP
99 Gresham Street,
- Partners 7
- Counsel 2
- Associates 9
- Total trainees 2
- Contact Tuula Davis, office manager, 020 7710 9800
- Method of application Candidates should e-mail a CV and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Selection procedure Three rounds of interviews with partners and the chance to meet current associates and trainees.
- Closing date for 2017 Applicants for September 2017 should apply by end March 2017
- Training contracts pa 2
- Applications pa c. 300
- % interviewed pa 8%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £42,000
- Second year: £46,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Overseas and regional offices We have offices in Almaty, Ashgabat, Astana, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Houston, London, Mexico City, Milan, Muscat, New York, Paris, Rome and Washington DC.
Main areas of work