“I didn’t know if I wanted to be a lawyer or a diplomat. Curtis is a law firm that combines the two.”
Cameroon, Albania, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, Spain, Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Indonesia, Cyprus, Venezuela, Mexico, Uganda, Kuwait – these countries have literally nothing in common, except of course Curtis's clients are based there (and elsewhere). You get the picture: this firm is very international, with 17 offices across the globe from Mexico City to Milan to Muscat. The London branch is pretty tiddly and takes in just one or two trainees a year. It specialises in two areas – international arbitration and corporate finance – and doesn't win any Chambers UK rankings at present, but the firm has a broader practice globally and is ranked in Chambers' Global, USA, Latin America, Europe and Asia-Pacific guides.
Recently London expanded its litigation practice with the lateral hire of solicitor advocate and partner Mark Handley from Gibson Dunn. “We’re very strong on the arbitration side, but we’ve been wanting for some time to build out our litigation practice in London,” says London deputy managing partner Winta Jarvis. “We don’t tend to hire a lot of laterals, as we want to grow organically, but we still want to grow in the right way so that in two or three years’ time the litigation department will be much more prominent.” As well as its established international arbitration and fledgling litigation practice, the London office works on corporate law and investment management, almost entirely for government bodies or state-owned companies.
“Trainees are able to tailor their training contact..."
Curtis's training contract is non-rotational, so there's no seat system. Instead trainees get their own office and are left to pursue whatever work takes their fancy (as long as SRA requirements are satisfied). Jarvis tells us that “we try to keep trainees generalists – we don’t get people to specialise unless they specify a preference.” The work on offer “mainly breaks down into corporate or arbitration,” a trainee told us, and the balance of the two you experience depends on “where your interests lie and where the firm has a need.” A trainee said there's “the freedom to choose what you like and speak up if you want to work on something different.” Jarvis tells us that the reasoning behind the flexible training contract is that “trainees are able to tailor their training contact a bit more, rather than being stuck in a seat they potentially don’t want to do.” The firm's petite size no doubt influences the need to structure the traineeship in a flexible way too.
Frenemies of the state
The arbitration team primarily acts for governments and state-owned entities in investor-state arbitrations, though in keeping with the firm's expansion efforts on the contentious front it's getting increasingly involved in litigation too. Curtis recently represented the government of Venezuela in an investment dispute against energy company ConocoPhillips which claimed damages of $30 billion over three petroleum contracts. Another matter saw the firm defend Kazakhstan against a $1 billion action brought by an oil company over the termination of a hydrocarbon contract – the firm lawyered the sum down to just over $39 million. A trainee said they “definitely felt like a substantial part of the team.” Typical tasks include legal research, document analysis, meeting with experts and clients, as well as drafting memos, client correspondence, and “parts of the brief that we submit to arbitration tribunals – it’s reviewed by partners first of course!”
Those working with the team can also expect to encounter clients which are state-owned or state-related entities. The work covers oil and gas, private funds and sovereign wealth funds. The group also does some M&A, IP and venture capital work – “it’s great to represent companies that are in their initial stages,” a source said. An example of the work the firm is doing globally is its advice to an Omani electricity and water desalination procurement company on the financing of an $8 billion offshore oil and gas field in Ghana. “We’re generally working on the drafting of government contracts with international corporations,” an interviewee said. Trainee tasks on this kind of matter include drafting memos, preparing for client meetings, taking notes, handling signing sheets and “a lot of research!”
“See how states and governments operate.”
The firm's governmental clientele means Curtis lawyers get to “see how states and governments operate.” But we heard that the most fascinating bit of the work is “dealing with the experts – they’re often high-ranking officials who are highly regarded people in their sector. It’s interesting to see how they think. When you pick their brains you learn a lot – and not just about law!”
As well as working internationally with clients, trainees and qualified lawyers at the firm also “work very closely with colleagues in other offices all around the world.” And that's not just by phone and email – “you typically travel at least twice a year.” Common destinations include Paris and Washington DC, but the trip you're assured is one to the firm's HQ in New York. Towards the end of the training contract, rookies head to the Big Apple to participate in the firm's US summer associate programme. “It’s the US equivalent of a vac scheme,” Winta Jarvis explains. “It’s ten weeks long and second-year trainees go to New York for part of it.” He tells us the experience is “a good way to network and get to know the junior people out there – and the social events are a nice way to end the training contract!”
Because Curtis's London office is so small, as a trainee “they trust you to be more like an associate in many ways.” For example, trainees can take charge of how much work they want to take on. “Your plate can be very full or empty – it’s up to you!” said a trainee. But that doesn't mean you can get away with just doing the bare minimum. “One thing partners seek to develop in you is the ability to take responsibility for working out what needs to be done and taking action before they tell you.” Though you don’t actually need to be a soothsayer to work here, partners do “expect a lot, so you have to be 100% prepared before you go to them. They will ask a lot of questions and you will have to answer quickly and to the point.” It’s safe to say that Curtis trainees are attracted to a challenge. “If you can prove yourself, they’ll give you more advanced work,” a source added. Should trainees want to (which a Curtis type will), they can get involved with business development too.
“Partners teach you how to behave around clients."
Due to there being so few trainees in the office at any one time, training tends to come on the job. “You get constant feedback from the partners,” we heard – for example, “when I draft a brief, I sit with them and they show me how they'd write it. You get to see the whole picture of their reasoning.” Training is often related to the multinational work the firm does. “Partners teach you how to behave around clients," reported one interviewee, "and about the cultural issues between the different countries we represent.” Trainees also have 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. The firm didn't have any qualifiers finishing their training contract in 2018.
Trainees typically work a ten-hour day, though busy periods can see periods of 9am to 9pm shifts. The long hours are softened by the fact teams usually do similar hours together. “It feels less like work because we talk and laugh and the time just passes us by!” said one chipper source. Jarvis tells us that because to the office’s size, “the culture is very close-knit – there’s a family feel.” We heard that people “chat in the office, get coffee together, have lunch together and go out for drinks maybe once a month.” Jarvis says the kind of person who fits in is “someone flexible, proactive and internationally minded who wants a small working environment with more responsibility at a younger age.”
Despite being a multinational firm, Curtis is arguably still a mid-sizer (it has 320 lawyers), so you can get to know a high proportion of its lawyers globally.
How to get a Curtis training contract
Training contract deadline (2019): March 2019
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. The firm recruits trainees to start in the same year – so in March 2019 it is recruiting trainees to start in September 2019.
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.”
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP
99 Gresham Street,
- Partners 9
- Associates 14
- Total trainees 2
- UKoffices London
- Overseas offices 16
- Graduate recruiter: Tuula Davis, office manager, 020 7710 9800
- Training partner: Winta Jarvis, [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, 2019 start: Applicants for a September start should apply by 31 March
- 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 2018