We continue a series of interviews with representatives of foreign legal business. Today our guest is a partner of the leading law firm of Austria KNOETZL Patrizia Netal. She spoke about the development of legal business in Austria, the principles of working with clients, shared his beliefs about the impact of reputation for business and career opportunities for women and men
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- Patrizia, first of all we would like to ask you about the legal business in Austria. Could you tell us about the level of development of the Austrian legal market?
- After last year’s economic upturn, the legal business in Austria has concentrated on M&A transactions, whereas in previous years the focus was on corporate restructuring. The real estate sector has also experienced a resurgence, with investors being particularly interested in alternative assets and forward-purchase deals. Another growing area is white collar crime and compliance, where the emphasis is on preventive advisory work. Austria is a regional arbitration hub and is often selected by SEE companies as the seat for arbitration because of its reputation and historical ties. For many in the region, the Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) is the preferred arbitral institution. Vienna provides for excellent logistics and professional legal infrastructure, including outstanding legal professionals, to conduct arbitrations in an efficient way.
- What is your firm’s position on the market?
- We founded KNOETZL in 2016 with the idea to create a dispute resolution powerhouse specialized in arbitration, litigation, alternative dispute resolution, business crime and corporate crisis management. While 2016 is still very recent, we have successfully identified a market niche and evolved into Austria’s largest dispute resolution team. Chambers Europe 2018 has already ranked our firm among a very small number of Austria’s most outstanding firms and has recognized our impressive growth and extensive experience in the fields of domestic and cross-border litigation as well as international arbitration. KNOETZL has a very successful track record handling highly sensitive disputes and corporate crises. We are proud of a truly international and diverse team, with each individual working at high-level quality.
- What was your career path?
- Before co-founding KNOETZL, I was partner at a Viennese arbitration boutique and also worked as head of arbitration at a Viennese law firm. I have mostly concentrated my work on international commercial arbitration, particularly on post M&A, construction and engineering disputes, aviation and international sales contracts. I have always pursued additional engagements related to arbitration such as being co-chair of the Association of Young Austrian Arbitration Practitioners (YAAP) or Austria’s Steering Committee member of the initiative Equal Representation in Arbitration (ERA). In addition, I was appointed as a member of the steering committee of the Vienna International Arbitral Centre (VIAC) for the revision of the Vienna Rules in 2013 and 2017. One of my personal most important engagements is the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, the largest international student competition in the field of arbitration, of which I am the co-director.
- What approaches do you use in your work with clients of your law firm?
- Understanding your clients’ needs and situation is a key element to provide the best tailormade solution for the challenges they are facing. In this sense, our team is dedicated to developing and implementing cohesive strategies in collaboration with our clients. At KNOETZL, we aim at tackling the cases in the most efficient and effective way, understanding that clients want their team to be the right size for their case and composed of top lawyers willing to go the extra-mile because they consider their work highly fulfilling and meaningful.
- Why international arbitration was chosen the area of your professional interests?
- When I was a law student at the University of Vienna, I started to help in the organization of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot. That experience definitely influenced my interest for international arbitration. While I found other areas of law interesting, arbitration was particularly challenging and intellectually stimulating – an image that it has lived up to throughout my career: Each case has its own particularities and is a never-ending learning experience. Though my career path has always concentrated on international commercial arbitration, the challenge of developing and implementing winning strategies to achieve the best outcome in an international dispute persists; this explains my enthusiasm for arbitration.
- The concepts of reputation and ethics are becoming increasingly important in the legal market of Ukraine every day. Tell us what ethical principles do you practice?
- I fully concur that ethics and reputation are extremely important in the legal market and are decisive for a successful career as counsel and arbitrator. Ethical principles and values practiced in professional life usually mirror the personal code of ethics. In this sense, honesty and integrity are two values that guide both my professional and personal life. Acting as counsel requires you to present the case to the arbitrators in a way that allows them to trust in your submissions and to render a decision in favor of your client. Acting as arbitrator naturally requires integrity and trust of the parties. Independent from your cultural or gender background, these are values that are indispensable for a successful career in international arbitration. It goes without saying that ethics and integrity are fundamental elements of the working environment at KNOETZL and a natural requirement to develop and maintain valuable client relationships.
- What difficulties did you encounter in the beginning of your career?
- At the very beginning of my career women working in the field of international arbitration, which had been traditionally considered a “men’s club”, were rather rare. Yet, a difficulty can also turn into an opportunity. I believe it was easier to raise attention for my work being part of a minority. However, I was certainly lacking female role models that could have provided guidance in my career. Nowadays, this has fortunately changed and there are many excellent female arbitration practitioners providing the younger generation with successful examples of how to pursue careers in international arbitration.
- In your opinion, is there a gender problem in the legal business in general?
- It is a fact that women are successfully represented in the legal community. However, female lawyers still seem to be restricted in advancing their careers when it comes to equity partnership in law firms. Having children and a family might often be the unspoken reason for these restrictions. However, most law firms would benefit from allowing more women to partnership. Therefore, law firms should adapt and create conditions that allow all their lawyers to achieve their best performance, even whilst having family. Diverse management has proven to be more successful in international markets also for law firms.
In arbitration, there are helpful initiatives that are addressing the necessity of increasing the participation of women as arbitrators, amongst them the Pledge for Equal Representation in Arbitration (ERA). ERA advocates that women should be appointed as arbitrators on an equal opportunity basis. Initiatives like the ERA or ArbitralWomen have certainly helped to raise healthy awareness for equal representation in arbitration.
- Give some tips for women who are developing their career in the legal profession?
- I believe it is very important not to be discouraged by setbacks, not everything can work out perfectly all the time. It is essential to strive for excellence and to genuinely be passionate about what you are doing. Having a mentor is certainly helpful to provide you with an invaluable source of experience and guidance at every stage of your career. Building networks already at an early stage of your career will support your endeavors. Finally, never stop learning and be alert, the legal environment constantly changes.
- Patrizia, you are Co-Director of the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot. Tell us about role and development of the Moot for students and practitioners.
- The Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot is the world’s largest and most renowned law student competition in the field of arbitration. I have been part of it since about 1999 when I was a law student and since 2012 as a director. The Moot aims at training tomorrow’s leaders in arbitration as the business community’s preferred method of dispute resolution and to provide better understanding of the CISG as well as other uniform international commercial law. It is a great opportunity for students to develop advocacy skills in arguing your case in front of international arbitration practitioners and to learn from approaches taken by persons trained in other legal cultures. The Moot has for sure set standards in arbitration over the past two decades. It has educated thousands of students from many regions of the world that now know what to expect from commercial arbitration. Last year, the Vis Moot celebrated its 25th anniversary with 357 teams and 1,400 arbitrators coming from 80 countries. Last but not least, the Vis Moot certainly offers a unique opportunity for students and practitioners to build professional networks and friendships across the world.