Bettina Knoetzl is a co-founding partner of Knoetzl, a leading Austria-based international law firm focused on litigation, arbitration, ADR and white-collar crime. The firm also advises on compliance issues, corporate crisis management and internal and external investigations, including FCPA proceedings. Bettina is a trial lawyer with 25 years’ experience in international and Austrian litigation and resolution of complex commercial disputes. She handles cases in corporate disputes, banking, insurance, investment funds, pharma and life science, investors’ protection, asset tracing, bribery and corruption. Bettina advises clients in mission-critical disputes, including class actions, and has a track record of winning judgments and obtaining strong, favourable settlements for companies, as well as governmental and private clients.
Describe your career to date.
After my last exam at university, I was surprised to be invited by the law faculty to fill an open position as assistant to a professor who had administered my very last oral exam and who, coincidentally, was about to establish the later well-known Austrian legal magazine ecolex. This was an exciting start!
Having also studied economics, I next moved to a leading bank, Bank Austria UniCredit. I was selected to participate in a one-and-a-half-year training programme, offering me a special opportunity to cultivate a pervasive understanding of banking and finance, analysis of financial statements, risks inherent in securities trading, treasury department operations and more. I also observed our outside counsel perform, some of them in an inspiring way. Those observations ignited my desire to “switch sides”, a decision that was tough to take after three joyous and successful years – but inevitable.
Armed with five years of invaluable work experience, I joined a then small law firm, which in 1993 almost nobody knew, called Wolf Theiss. The coming years were the perfect opportunity for me to help develop and transform, over time, the unranked enterprise into the law firm market leader in Austria. I spent countless hours on building the first stand-alone dispute resolution department in the Austrian legal market, and later in the SEE and CEE region. Together with a constantly growing team, we defined the top. Great years with significant international recognition of the team and our firm followed.
What motivated you to focus your practice on the intersection between dispute resolution and white-collar crime?
While litigation practice was relatively immune from the effects of the financial crisis in 2008–2009, full-scale law firms suffered from the economic slowdown. I made observations from those times and learned important lessons; specialisation (in the right field) and top quality seemed a solid path onward and upward. This, and market demand observed locally and internationally, drove me to create a specialised white-collar crime department. A huge percentage of civil disputes include aspects of fraud, corruption, undue influence, espionage or other business crimes and chicanery. Such cases require deep economic understanding and are put in the capable hands of skilled commercial lawyers. Aside from the different procedural laws and complexity of crimes, the fundamentals required of a civil litigation trial lawyer and a criminal trial lawyer are similar.
What did you enjoy most about establishing your own firm?
The cooperation among the partners who made this happen and the speed at which we established the whole cutting-edge operation.
While I had decided in early November 2015 to move ahead and close a 23-year chapter, by the year’s end it was still unclear whether I might serve another year with my old firm. Nevertheless, on 4 January 2016, we opened a fully operating law firm with about 30 IT users and a larger number of continually filled coffee cups – one of the essentials of a successful law firm, especially in Vienna. On 5 January, our team filed the first KNOETZL court submission.
A guardian angel must have delivered a big number of highly skilled helping hands, enabling us to transform our vision into reality at super-speed. The number of tasks when opening a new operation of that size, dedicated to providing nothing short of excellence, is simply overwhelming. I am still amazed at how we did it. Similarly overwhelming was the incredibly warm welcome Knoetzl is fortunate to enjoy from the local and international markets.
How has the increased enforcement activity from regulatory authorities around the world impacted client demands over the past few years?
We navigate our litigation practice at the intersection with white-collar crime, which means also handling disputes with various types of regulatory authorities. We handle tax (fraud) litigation, cases pending in front of the financial market authority and other criminal administrative proceedings. A significant part of our practice is engaged in defence of price-fixing and other cartel allegations. In all of those cases, the client gets the full service in one go and does not need to expand costs by involving several law firms. We are not only a powerhouse for litigation; we are a focused source of all kinds of proceedings.
What is the greatest challenge currently facing asset recovery lawyers?
One challenge is the breathtakingly fast growth of data volume and the selection of the perfect tools, particularly software, to analyse the data. In other words: how to handle the challenge to always have the cutting edge and the most cost-efficient technical support available for the client.
Looking at the lawyering side, we are still disappointed that the cross-border cooperation of prosecution authorities around the globe, particularly in offshore jurisdictions or protectionist jurisdictions, does not work as smoothly as needed.
How important is it for those practising in this area to have both civil and criminal law expertise?
Clients selecting counsel well-versed in both areas have a tremendous advantage over those who have to coordinate two or more disparate practitioners. Beating a fraudster can be like playing chess. It is very important to always consider every potential effect and cross-effect of the next move juxtaposed against the ultimate goal: successful recovery of the assets. Ideally, the whole strategic game plan comes together in the head of the legal mastermind of the battle, who has the broadest knowledge and the most experience in all legal arenas involved.
What role do well-established practitioners play in the development of lawyers looking to pursue a career in the field?
Such practitioners are the role models for the next generation and they should lead by example. In Austria, we have a sworn obligation to educate our associates and I am personally heavily involved in training young lawyers. I instruct two different courses at the Austrian Lawyers’ Academy and similar associations, as I believe in the power of passing on knowledge to the next generation. For this purpose, I do not view younger lawyers practising at other law firms as “competition”, but rather, I believe we can change the world for the better if bad lawyering can be extinguished.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
“No risk it, no biscuit” – taken from a famous NFL football coach and analyst who is our managing partner’s friend. In fact, lawyers are risk-averse, but there are moments in our lives when we should take a chance.
The “excellent” Bettina Knoetzl is a "commercial and responsive practitioner” who stands out as one of Europe’s leading lights when it comes to asset recovery matters.
Bettina Knoetzl is praised by clients for her "excellent knowledge of the field". She stands out for her expertise on drug liability and medical implant claims.
Bettina Knoetzl is a founding partner at KNOETZL, a leading litigation and dispute resolution law firm, with a groundbreaking focus on trial work in civil and criminal courts and arbitral tribunals, business crime, compliance and corporate crisis management.
Bettina Knoetzl has 25 years’ experience in complex national and international disputes, and is currently and uniformly ranked as one of the leading litigation, dispute resolution and white-collar crime lawyers in Austria.
Bettina specialises in international and commercial litigation, focusing on defence of liability claims, especially for international pharmaceutical clients and other life sciences and significant healthcare providers, corporations in the real estate sector and in banking and finance, including financial derivatives. She has successfully defended clients in class action lawsuits, including one of Austria's largest civil cases, as well as in several collective actions against pharmaceutical companies and investor clients in well-known corporate and shareholder disputes. Bettina Knoetzl also provides legal counsel to significant government institutions.
Bettina Knoetzl is the immediate past co-chair of the litigation committee of the International Bar Association; the president of Transparency International – Austrian chapter; the exclusive Austrian representative of ICC FraudNet; and member of the advisory board of the ZBP Career Centre at Vienna University of Economics and Business. She teaches litigation and dispute resolution, including mediation, at the Austrian Lawyers’ Academy and she is ranked in the top tier in litigation and white-collar crime by leading international directories, including Chambers. She is currently recognised as a Thought Leader by Who's Who Legal in litigation and asset recovery and was named Lawyer of the Year in asset recovery at the 2017 Who's Who Legal Awards.
Bettina Knoetzl is a pre-eminent name in the asset recovery litigation space who is highly rated for her work in complex disputes.
Bettina Knoetzl is a co-founder and partner at KNOETZL, a leading firm in litigation, arbitration, alternative dispute resolution, business crime, compliance and corporate investigations. Bettina has 25 years’ experience in handling complex national and international disputes and is currently ranked as one of the leading litigation, asset recovery and white-collar crime lawyers in Austria.
Before founding the firm in 2016, Bettina developed the largest international litigation and dispute resolution practice in Austria and the contiguous region.
Bettina specialises in international and commercial litigation, focusing on business crime, investor protection, liability claims, corporate disputes, banking, insurance, investment funds and financial derivatives cases, and life sciences litigation. She has successfully defended against class action lawsuits, including Austria’s biggest civil litigation case to date, and represents corporate and investor clients in mission critical and well-known shareholder disputes. She is also called upon to provide critical legal counsel to significant government institutions.
Bettina is notably involved in the leadership of the litigation committee of the International Bar Association, including service as co-chair during 2016 through 2017. She is the president of the advisory board of Transparency International (Austrian Chapter), the Austrian representative of the ICC-FraudNet and member of the advisory board of ZBP, the career centre of the Vienna University of Economics and Business. She lectures at the Austrian Lawyers’ Academy in dispute resolution and has been ranked in the top tier for more than a decade in litigation and white-collar crime by national and leading international directories, such as Chambers and Partners and Who’s Who Legal (including being the first European to be named Lawyer of the Year in 2017 by Who’s Who Legal, in asset tracing).