When it comes to representing international states, New York’s Curtis Mallet is nailing it.
What do Coca-Cola, toilet seat covers, iPads and Curtis all have in common? They’re US imports the Brits have embraced. But despite its US heritage, the firm actually has more international offices than American ones: three are situated in the US (the New York HQ, plus its DC and Houston bases) and 14 others are spread across Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. The firm’s client roster reads like the table plan at a United Nations dinner: Cyprus, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Uganda and Russia are just some of the countries Curtis represents. In fact, the UN crops up on the client list, too. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Curtis has nabbed four Chambers rankings for its international arbitration prowess alone – in France, Latin America, the US and global-wide – and those are only a few of the firm’s 26 rankings to be found across Chambers’ guides. Other areas that stand out include international trade, dispute resolution and corporate/M&A across various jurisdictions.
Instead of embarking on a sports-car-shopping-spree midlife crisis, Curtis' 45-year-old London office has stuck with its strategy of keeping lateral numbers low and maintaining its Smart-car sized headcount – the London office, for example, houses around 25 lawyers, which was something that got our interviewees’ engines going: “I never wanted be one of 60 trainees,” said one source. There’s no danger of that at Curtis, which only takes on one or two trainees a year. Others were sold on the fact that “it brings in really international work because it’s got offices all over the world – nothing is ever purely English law.” A fun fact to demonstrate this international capability: Curtis is the only US-headquartered firm that’s licensed to practise in Oman.
Given its size, Curtis doesn’t offer a rotational seat programme. Instead, “you get involved in whatever work is available so you can direct the training contract as you like.” The benefit is that “you’re not stuck in something you don’t like for six months, but you can also spend longer than six months on the things you enjoy.” What's more, the lack of “arbitrary” rotations means “you can see most of your work through to the end.” Interviewees were pleased to say that “no one office is dominant” and that departments don’t dominate the client base, either. Although more senior lawyers “are firmly in one camp or the other, elsewhere people will dabble in another department if the work calls for it.” This enables, for example, corporate lawyers to get involved in disputes matters for a client who they’ve already worked with on their primary area of expertise.
International arbitration is the name of the game at Curtis: “It’s very proud of its reputation.” The firm “more or less only represents state entities,” trainees informed us. Chambers Global praises Curtis for its work on investor-state disputes, especially those occurring in the telecoms, oil & gas, mining and banking sectors. Clients here include all the countries mentioned in the introduction. Lawyers in this area have been busy representing India in seven arbitrations, including one involving Vodafone over taxation measures and another that revolved around enforcements being put on state-owned company Antrix. As soon as they joined the group, trainees got involved in organising evidence, drafting briefs and even going on trips abroad to meet clients. One insider was particularly keen to tell us: “Every matter I’ve been on has involved teams from all over the world, including those in Mexico and New York.” The firm has recently begun taking on more commercial arbitration matters, thanks partly to a lateral partner hire.
“Every matter I’ve been on has involved teams from all over the world.”
The work in corporate is “slightly more wide-ranging than it is in international arbitration – it’s more of a general practice with M&A and commercial contract work too.” We heard there’s a lot investment management work, which sees the team representing the likes of funds, fund sponsors or other investors: “A lot of the work comes out of New York, but we have state entity clients in Europe and further afield.” The London office recently supported colleagues in Dubai on a venture capital investment into UK-based food tech business KBox Global – a deal that also involved structuring and tax advice.
Commercial litigation is known for affording trainees a lot of responsibility: “Within a week of joining the firm I was drafting summaries on a High Court case worth £9.6 billion!” That’s pretty darn good for a first week. A London-based partner recently led a case on behalf of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs against Qatar’s allegations that the state has violated an international convention on racial discrimination by restricting the entry of Qatari citizens for national security reasons linked to terrorism. When they’re not busy defending some of the world’s most wealthy states in court, the usual bundling and legal research tasks are par for the course for trainees. One interviewee had a whirl “researching case law that helped us prove our arguments – I was in court when the QC presented the arguments that relied on my research!” Doc review gets a bad rep, but those with additional language skills are able to break the tedium by reviewing said documents in other languages. Trainees are commonly the point of contact on cases: “I was on client calls and giving them updates on the arguments we were preparing. I also really enjoyed briefing team members on developments: you’re the person who knows the documents, so people rely on you to fill in the gaps.”
Irrespective of the department trainees are working for, they’re awarded a hella lotta responsibility: “They can’t afford not to – there are only a couple of us!” One interviewee pointed out that “if I was one of a hundred trainees, I’d probably be doing a lot of photocopying.” Another put the high responsibility down to the fact that firms in the US don’t hire trainees, “so we’re treated like junior associates from the moment we join.” Even though “it’s a steep learning curve, there’s always someone to help you.”
“We’re treated like junior associates from the moment we join.”
It’s worth noting that there isn’t a formal training programme: “You learn on the job. We have monthly office-wide training but nothing specific to trainees.” The firm does, however, “support us going to workshops at other firms. We have such a fantastic arbitration practice they should do formal training on it here!” Trainees can rely on informal training to see them through as well, and insiders praised the partners for being far from curt: “There’s no such thing as not being able to speak to them if you’re juggling deadlines, which is nice.”
The office set-up also lends itself to a collaborative environment: each trainee typically shares an office with an associate. One interviewee recalled an especially collegial time: “I was once working over the weekend with partners based in the US who I’d never worked with before. My supervising partner was abroad, but she still emailed me asking if I was okay and if I needed anything.” At the same time, sources warned future trainees to not “expect anyone to hold your hand. You need to be confident enough to ask questions and let people know if you’re struggling.”
“There’s a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.”
Aside from confidence, what else does Curtis want in its trainees? “Curtis wants well-rounded people – not just those who are good at their job, but those who can who hold a conversation too,” replied one insider. It’s likely, therefore, that you’ll hear discussions about politics or current affairs when you’re walking the halls, and often in several languages too. “I’m actually one of the few monolingual people here,” said one source. “A lot of people grew up abroad so there’s a very cosmopolitan atmosphere – international outlook is a characteristic that runs through the lawyers here.”
There are other factors that bind people together at Curtis. A lot of the partners “have been with the firm for over 20 years, and a lot came over from the US, so people know more about each other than just work.” A case in point: “An associate had a baby recently and some of the partners gave him hand-me-downs.” That’s very cute. This family-oriented culture also permeates the more senior ranks and helps with inclusion, according to sources. One explained that “a partner I work with is married with children and she’s very prominent in the firm – most female lawyers look up to her and see that yes, you can have a family and also progress your career.”
In keeping with treating trainees like associates, “there’s very little fanfare around qualification. You basically just carry on what you’re doing.” At the end of the training contract you tell the firm where you want to qualify, they review your work and “unless you’ve done something outrageous, you’ll be retained.”
Pledge of Allegiance
Our interviewees weren’t interested in moving elsewhere, with one explaining that “nobody does arbitration as well as Curtis, so I certainly want to stay here.” The firm retained its sole qualifier in 2020.
How to get a Curtis training contract
Training contract deadline (2021 start): Applicants for a September start should apply by 31 December 2020
Curtis receives around 300 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. 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 partner 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.”
More on the hours and social life
The hours can be dicey in the disputes practice. For one source this meant “a string of fairly bleak finishes in the run up to deadlines – 2am finishes do happen.” The trade-off is the ability to “have a lot of downtime and start work later the next day – you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!" As one source rather bluntly put it: “You don’t come into law without expecting to stay late.” Unusually for corporate, trainees described it as a personal-life-friendly seat: “It’s very unusual to stay late – I’ve only stayed past midnight twice.”
The social landscape, unfortunately, can be as barren as some of those deserts in Curtis’ clients’ nations. Interviewees attributed this partly to the fact that lawyers need to get home to their kids, and partly to the low number of lawyers, which means “not a lot of people are free at the same time.” Those who are sporty sorts can get involved in the weekly five-a-side football game, and in the summer Curtis plays in the London Softball League: “Last summer was our first season and we did surprisingly well given no one really knew what they were doing!” Luckily the US folk were able to lend a hand.
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP
99 Gresham Street,
- Partners 9
- Associates 14
- Total trainees 2
- UKoffices London
- Overseas offices 15
- Graduate recruiter: Tuula Davis, office manager, 020 7710 9800
- Training partner: Mark Handley, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 2
- Applications pa: 300
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: Rolling applications
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: Applicants for a September start should apply by 31 December 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,000
- Second-year salary: £46,000
- 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 2020
LinkedIn: Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP
Email: [email protected]