Bettina Knoetzl is a keystone of the Austrian white-collar crime space. Peers describe her as “a top-notch lawyer” and “a real expert who is super responsive”.
Bettina Knoetzl heads the litigation and white-collar crime practices at KNOETZL, an elite disputes and asset recovery firm in Vienna, Austria. She was the first European to be recognised as “Lawyer of the Year” for asset recovery. Before founding KNOETZL, she created and grew the firm-wide disputes team at the largest firm in the region. Bettina is a past co-chair of the IBA Litigation Committee, the current president of Transparency International – Austrian chapter and the exclusive Austrian representative of ICC FraudNet.
What skills are needed to successfully collaborate with lawyers, experts and authorities in different jurisdictions?
It is a “cocktail” of various skills and talents that lead to success. The basis rests upon in-depth knowledge of the available legal “tools” and measures that may be (successfully) applied in one’s home jurisdiction. Add a good portion of solid understanding of the systematics of foreign legal regimes, a cup of good common sense, a portion of top analytical talent, and a dash of cross-cultural understanding of people to form the most effective strategy. Top with strong communication skills to execute the collective strategic decisions, and sprinkle with a generous portion of flexibility to adjust to new developments, and you should have the right mixture.
What are the main considerations when developing strategies for the international search and recovery of assets?
The driving force is the client’s goal. Usually, clients and their counsel are acting under significant cost constraints and we need to be mindful of the client’s reputation and confidentiality. Often, the question of funding the operation needs to be resolved first. This requires an assessment of the chances of a) locating assets and b) gaining a legal attachment for the client. For this purpose, we need to select the right tools and legal means to achieve a freeze of assets. Some jurisdictions offer more easily expandable tools -- like worldwide freeze orders-- than others. In some jurisdictions, the bar to obtain a freeze order is higher than in others. Therefore, geography and where to place the first stroke, play significant roles. Then, the decision to file a criminal complaint or to simply stick with civil remedies will determine the next steps, as will costs associated with these legal steps and the later accessibility of the attached assets. Finally, timing is a crucial factor. Which steps should be prepared and executed before the opponent is alerted about being targeted?
What breadth of cases are you currently working on?
Our cases reach from Far East, Middle East, Russia, Austria’s neighbouring countries, including Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Hungary to the western world. They cover the whole spectrum: from fraud and embezzlement, running Ponzi schemes, money laundering and bribery to “participation in criminal organisations”. Austria offers a high standard of living, with beautiful modern cities located in the heart of Europe, considered to have some of the best cities in the world to live in, offering good schools, culture and safety. One should not be surprised that criminals with “too much money” choose Vienna as their second home and Austrian banks as their trusted depositaries. Currently our portfolio covers cases with key individuals located in Hong Kong, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, London, New York and various “tax havens” such as Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Guernsey, BVI, Cook Islands etc.
What new types of fraud are you seeing emerge and develop during the covid-19 pandemic? How are you ensuring that you and your clients are well equipped to tackle them?
The importance of a high level of technical understanding and state-of-the-art computer and network technology had been continuously increasing. In asset tracing, it is important to stay on top of innovation and best practices in the legal and forensic industry. Given the diminished opportunity for personal meetings of professionals at international conferences and similar events, it has become even more essential to pursue a lively exchange of experiences with colleagues in international networks.
What do you predict will be the long-term effects of covid-19 on white-collar crime and related proceedings?
Internet-related fraud will likely increase. Effects will be so proliferated that current predictions might miss the mark. It certainly affects all sorts of financial crimes, small as well as big ones. Neither may a €50 bill be tempting enough to pass on a piece of information, nor can the briefcase with piles of money be easily handed over, as home office and travel restrictions continue to be in place. Even the “old school” intelligence work has been heavily affected by the covid-19 crisis. The need to utilise wire transfer in exchange for information has increased. Therefore, it is predictable that crimes committed with the help of the (much less regulated) cryptocurrencies will increase significantly.
What impact has technological innovation had on the nature of asset recovery cases you have been seeing?
The ability to make data available quickly and to extract the essential findings is critical to success. Most likely, the development of tools that utilise what we currently call “artificial intelligence” will be accelerated, given the need to make up for missing exchange of information in person.
What are the key challenges that the next generation of asset recovery lawyers may face?
Artificial intelligence could change the whole industry. My recommendation for younger asset recovery lawyers is to strive to become rather good lawyers than forensic experts. The lawyering part of asset recovery will be needed, even if intelligent machines and/or programs can take care of the whole background and factual research.
What can younger lawyers be doing to establish themselves in asset recovery?
Develop a true passion for it.
Everything that you do with joy, you do better, and it will be more satisfying to leverage your enthusiasm. Try to find a law firm that specialises in asset recovery. Ask one of the more senior lawyers, who you deem ideal for the task, to be your mentor and to provide help and advice to allow you to excel.
Bettina Knoetzl is a passionate trial lawyer with over 25 years’ experience in litigating and settling critical disputes. She has tried, won or settled thousands of high-stake cases. Bettina heads the litigation team at KNOETZL, a leading Austrian law firm providing the highest quality of advocacy in dispute resolution. In October 2020, she was elected as the new vice president of the Vienna Bar and was the first European to be recognised as “Lawyer of the Year” in Asset Recovery (2017).
Describe your practice.
We act for international banks and insurance companies, global social media companies, leading online warehouses, big pharma, leading construction companies, super car makers and many more. Our passion is to win the most critical disputes for our client or, if more advantageous, to achieve optimal settlements. When a new matter lands on our desk, we study – a lot. Depending on the complexity, within a few days or weeks, we tend to know more about the issue in dispute than even experts do. It is our goal to understand everything and we enjoy gaining this expert knowledge. It enhances our overall experience and forges the cornerstone to success for the client.
How have the amounts at stake in disputes developed in the past few years?
We at KNOETZL deal with large and complex litigation matters. Often, the amount in dispute is in the multiple millions. Among our highest amounts presently in play is a post-M&A dispute over €800 million. That matter has been before the Austrian Supreme Court twice, and we are delighted that it was decided twice in favour of our client.
Sometimes smaller-value cases, like individual damage claims in the pharmaceutical sector, can indicate rather low amounts in dispute, but many multiple millions may be at stake, if the product is held to be defective. One of our clients in the modern technologies business informed us that an unfavourable judgment concerning a €500 damage claim would have a negative global effect exceeding €1 billion. And this is pending in a country to which the concept of punitive damages is foreign. In other words, these days, the actual amount in dispute can be higher than meets the eye.
Do you anticipate an influx of litigation in 2021 and beyond as clients come to terms with covid-19?
Yes, we do. Typically, a crisis gives rise to an influx of litigation. The covid-19 crisis will not be the exception to the rule. We already see the direct rise in litigation.
You organised a think tank of litigators to develop proposals for the government to amend and improve civil procedural laws. What have you learnt from this experience?
To think like a politician. If you want your proposals to materialise, it is helpful to be extremely well prepared (as in normal negotiations). Put yourself into the shoes of the person on the other side, or their boss. Why should they promote your proposal? What is the benefit for them and/or the voter? How are financial requirements satisfied? I would recommend having answers to these and similar questions prepared, before approaching government officials.
How does your work in the International Bar Association enhance your practice and allow you to contribute to the development of the industry?
Very much. The IBA is a fantastic way to stay on top of global trends and developments and, moreover, to get to know talented lawyers across the globe. As KNOETZL’s practice has a strong focus on cross-border litigation, having a strong network of capable lawyers around the globe, who you believe to be the best, and upon whom you can call at short notice (instead of having to engage in a consuming search for someone suited), is another important cornerstone to success.
What challenges did you face when setting up your own firm?
Our biggest challenge was timing and handling the challenges of not being a start-up, but rather, being, from the start, a major player in the market. On day one, we needed to provide small but essential things, like cups – filled with delicious coffee – for about 30 people, and not so small things, like a roof over our heads, fully functioning first-class office equipment, the best and safest IT solutions, including all licences, a website, a name, and thousands of other things. One can hardly imagine how long this list of “essential things” is. Overall, we were incredibly lucky, not only in securing the best office space in Vienna and great service providers, but also in having such a wonderful, inspirational team with outstanding entrepreneurial spirit. Without them, creating a top-tier organisation from zero – just in a couple of days – would have remained nothing but a dream.
How do you seek to educate younger practitioners to improve the quality of litigation?
For many years, I have been teaching courtroom skills, including examination techniques, negotiation and presentation, at the lawyer’s academy and other organisations – like last year at the University of Innsbruck for postgraduate students. Within our own firm, I have always paid great attention to the thorough education of our young lawyers. When we hire talented young lawyers, we encourage them to learn as much as possible from seniors with experience. This precious transfer of knowledge helps to grow both the individual and firm.
What was a significant achievement for you in the past year?
Our firm – in what we believe to be record time, anywhere – was recognised by all leading international directories, which are relevant to our practice, in their version of top league. We are humbled by and proud of this achievement, overjoyed and very grateful to our clients that they made this happen.
Bettina Knoetzl is a keystone of the Austrian white-collar crime space. Peers describe her as “a top-notch lawyer” and “a real expert who is super responsive”.
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, 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. With various industries subjected to digital transformation, Bettina has successfully steered notable clients in social media and online sales through high-profile data protection disputes.Bettina Knoetzl is a 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 and Partners. 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 garners widespread plaudits thanks to her remarkable skill as a litigator and vast experience handling liability claims in the life sciences sector.
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).