New York-founded Curtis was a pioneer when it came to global expansion; its London trainees also need an explorer's mindset to navigate its non-rotational training contract.
Curtis training contract review 2022
“At Curtis, there is an international element to everything we do,” declared one trainee proudly. Curtis was certainly one of the early movers when it came to global expansion in the legal industry. Among the US firms, it was one of the pioneer group that established a London base in the mid-1970s; since then, Curtis’ sole UK office has been built around the firm’s multinational outlook: “You are almost never working on deals that only concern London, and teams are composed of people across time zones and jurisdictions.” At the last count, there were 13 different nationalities represented in the London team alone. With such an internationally diverse cohort, most Curtis London lawyers are bilingual, and while it’s not a prerequisite for new trainees, it's certainly an advantage if you can speak another language. With 18 offices beyond London and overseas lawyers often hopping over for a visit, trainees were quick to highlight the multinational culture of the firm: “No one, no matter where you are from, is left feeling like an outsider.”
“At Curtis, there is an international element to everything we do.”
Chambers Globalrecognises Curtis as a global market leader for its international arbitration, international trade and public international law capabilities. “I always wanted to work in international law, specifically international arbitration,” a source reported. Another confirmed that it was “the disputes and arbitration matters that were the big pulls for me.”While Curtis is a sizeable firm “with offices all over the world,”its London base is relatively small, “which means you get to know everyone.” One interviewee explained: “Curtis doesn’t have as much structure as other firms. The roles are less defined. Here you are not just a face in the crowd, and no day is ever the same. If something needs doing, you can jump on and do it.”Beyond its famed international arbitration work, trainees can jump onto corporate, commercial litigation and fundsmatters too.
One thing that’s important to note is that Curtis does not divide its training contract into traditional ‘seats’. Instead, the firm takes a ‘non-rotational’ approach to training that allows its trainees to sample work from multiple areas throughout the contract. Our interviewees were overwhelmingly positive about this flexibility, with one explaining: “One of the appeals of this flexible approach is that you don’t have to be stuck in a department you aren’t interested in for six months.” Another liked that there’s “no reset button after each seat,” which enables Curtis trainees to continue working on matters – like lengthy arbitration cases – that run on past the traditional seat timeframe (six months). “At Curtis, you are able to see things through to the end and you actually have time to build a rapport with clients.”
Most trainees spend at least some time doing international arbitration work – the area where the firm has really “carved out a name for itself.” On a global basis, Curtis is known for representing sovereign states and taking the defence position in investor-state arbitrations that occur in sectors like energy and banking. The firm recently secured a win for the State of Libya in the Supreme Court, during a case that involved issues connected to the UK's State Immunity Act. Elsewhere, the group's lawyers were kept busy defending the Republic of India against a $1.4 billion claim (involving telecoms licences) brought under the Mauritius-India investment treaty. For trainees in the department, proofreading and checking documents is the bread and butter. But as you might expect, there’s also a healthy amount of contact with colleagues overseas too: “I created memos for colleagues in the US and Dubai who wanted to know the English law components of various disputes,”said one. Another told us that the matters here gave trainees plenty of time to delve into research assignments: “I looked into how precedents from previous cases might affect what we were working on.”
“...you are able to see things through to the end and you actually have time to build a rapport with clients.”
Curtis’ corporatework encompasses areas like M&A, venture capital, joint ventures, debt finance, equity finance and infrastructure. . Giving trainees freedom to find what interests them was the name of the game here too: “There’s a dynamic in the corporate practice where you go out and find the work for yourself.” Our sources reported working on a lot of investment-related matters for high net worth individuals, which involved checking over contracts. Another interviewee mentioned that they’d got stuck into “conducting financial reviews for various funds,” but also got to grips with the elements that comprise shareholder agreements. Recent work highlights include advising an international microfinance company as it sold an African subsidiary to a trade buyer; acting for an investment group as it made an important investment into an Asian international financial services group; and representing a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund on all matters tied to its closed-ended funds investment program.
For those taking on matters in the commercial litigationdepartment, the work is “largely research-based. It’s typical for emails to go out asking you to jump onto research tasks when possible, and especially if certain language skills are needed.” Trainees also play a key role in managing the progress of cases, as they “create chronologies of matters for the team to work off.”As is very normal for trainees anywhere, there’s also “lots of doc review” to get through too. However, one of the perks of this is getting to know individual cases inside out, which means that team members often come to rely on trainees for providing useful information tied to case strategy and approach. What’s more, at Curtis “there’s political sensitivity attached to some cases, which is interesting.” We also heard about trainees getting to draft witness statements quite early on in their training contract, which was deemed a plus.
With such a small intake – Curtis typically takes on one or two trainees each year – our sources felt that they were “basically treated like an associate from the start.” As one trainee put it: “One thing we were told at the start – and it is absolutely true – is that it’s not a place for someone who is worried about being left on their own or having to take on responsibility.” The smaller scale of teams overall means that trainees are viewed as an integral resource across the office. “One partner explained early on that we would wind up doing things above our station, as that’s the nature of the teams at Curtis,” another source informed us. Of course, this kind of freedom brings challenges: “Some partners in the US offices don’t really understand that you’re a trainee and not an associate, because they don’t have an equivalent[trainee role]. But someone will always step in to help you if you need it.”
“...basically treated like an associate from the start.”
With such close working relationships with overseas offices, there were some inevitable late nights, “but there were only three or four 11pm or midnight finishes” for this source. That's not bad at all, considering the kind of stereotypes about hours that US firms usually get tagged with. Overall, we heard that a regular working day would start at 9.30am and finish somewhere between 6.30–7pm. “The firm has really embraced flexible working,” a trainee commented. “Everyone here is expected to aim for eight hours a day and when it works for them.”We should be clear that this doesn’t mean Curtis’ lawyers simply choose when they work (they still have to be available for colleagues and clients of course!), but there is flexibility in that “some people like to come in later and stay later,”for example. This flexibility was especially appreciated in situations where there are childcare and family commitments involved. While the international scope may mean some later nights, it can also create opportunity: “One person asked about working on IP matters – which the London office doesn’t do – but a partner put them in touch with offices abroad that handled that work because they thought it was a good idea to expand their skill set.”
“It’s up to you to take responsibility and go out and get the requisite experience.”
Sources did feel that potential Curtis trainees “should be aware that it’s not a structured training contract. No one is going to hold your hand and tell you what you need to do in order to qualify. It’s up to you to take responsibility and go out and get the requisite experience.” Another interviewee added: “There is some formal training– one or two seminars for general learning – but not much. Most of the training is feedback-based; we go through what we did, what we could have done and how it could be improved. It is very thorough.”There is a training supervisor on hand for trainees to talk to, “but he’s not the one necessarily overseeing our day-to-day work.”Communication was therefore deemed to be really important at Curtis, as partners “won’t necessarily know how much work you are taking on unless you let them know.”
Qualification is reportedly on the firm’s mind from the get-go: “They generally take people on with the intention of keeping them after they qualify.”In one instance, the firm simply sent the NQ a new contract and told them to carry on as normal: “Nothing really changed beyond having a bit more freedom. It was essentially business as usual after qualifying.” The office managing partner “explains very clearly how qualification works,”but it’s “more or less up to you to manage.”Sources appreciated the “lack of fanfare”and felt that qualification required them to use the same amount of proactivity that they’d employed throughout their training contract.In 2021, Curtis retained its sole qualifier.
One of the most popular activities at the firm is a (slightly) serious softball endeavour that sees a devoted Curtis team competing in a league against other law firms: “The softball league is a great opportunity to talk to partners about things that aren’t work. No one takes it too seriously, but there is a healthy rivalry with some other firms!”
How to get a Curtis training contract
Opening dates for training contract applications (2023): 1 September 2021
Training contract deadline (2023): 31 December 2021
Curtis receives around 250 applications for its training contract each year, with prospective trainees submitting a CV and covering letter to the firm’s recruitment email address. For those candidates that stand out, there are what the firm describes as ‘several rounds’ of interviews, which include interviews with both associates and partners. But what is it that candidates who want to stand out should look to demonstrate?
The firm seeks applicants with consistently strong academic records, and expect at least an AAB at A-Level and a 2:1 or higher at degree level. This is not to say that intellect alone will secure you a training contract however, as the team at Curtis look for candidates with people skills, energy, and an ability to get on with others. Given the firm’s reputation for international work, prospective trainees would benefit from having a multinational outlook, and speaking another language is an advantage.
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP
99 Gresham Street,
- Partners 12
- Associates 10
- Total trainees 3
- UKoffices 1 (London)
- Overseas offices 18
- Graduate recruitment: Sophie Joy Zoghbi, email@example.com
- Training partner: Mark Handley, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2021
LinkedIn: Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP