Peter Burckhardt is singled out by commentators as a leading name in the Swiss market for white-collar crime prosecution and investigations, as well as internal investigations.
Peter Burckhardt heads Schellenberg Wittmer’s dispute resolution group in Zurich, as well as the white-collar crime and internal corporate investigations teams. Peter, a former state prosecutor, has a wealth of experience in criminal, regulatory and civil litigation matters. He has conducted many internal investigations, acted as defence counsel for corporations and individuals in law enforcement proceedings before Swiss and foreign (notably, US and UK) prosecutors and regulators, and the Swiss courts at all levels.
Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest achievement?
It might be a bit early still to look back . . . but generally, a source of great satisfaction is the fact that I could demonstrate through my career that professional success does not necessarily need a sophisticated master plan or extraordinary skill, but can be built on much simpler ingredients, such as pleasure in work, curiosity, determination, reliability – and pure luck!
How have corruption and money laundering investigations changed from when you started practising?
The changes we have seen over the past two decades, on an international scale, are truly remarkable. To name just a few, foreign bribery has turned from a perfectly legitimate and widely accepted business practice into a crime; the criminal exposure stemming from corruption and money laundering has been extended beyond responsible individuals to corporate employers; international cooperation and coordination in law enforcement has reached new levels (as have the fine amounts imposed); and the digitalised global economy produces an enormous amount of data, which means new opportunities and challenges in investigations. All this has contributed to a very dynamic, complex, international arena for lawyers practising in this field.
As head of the dispute resolution, white-collar crime and internal investigations group, what are your main priorities for the group’s development over the next five years?
Maintaining both our leading position in the Swiss market and our excellent collaborative and integrated team spirit.
What is the key to successfully conducting multi-jurisdictional investigations?
Investigations today tend to be very resource-intense and multidisciplinary, with various service providers in different locations working towards the same goal. They are conducted like a temporary business enterprise in a high-pressure environment. Accordingly, what you need is a strong team around you that works well together and with others; good project management skills and a fair degree of flexibility; an open ear and mind to foreign cultures and practices; and last but not least, a good amount of endurance and pressure resistance!
What do clients in the banking and finance sectors look for in a white-collar crime specialist and litigator?
Banks or other regulated financial service providers make for very sophisticated and demanding clients, who already have a lot of technical (including legal) expertise in-house. Such a client expects to interact with counsel who have a deep understanding of the client’s business and issues as a starting point, in addition to expert technical skills and first-rate reputation. Because white-collar matters will invariably attract the highest management’s attention, external counsel should also be very familiar with the special needs of internal boards and bodies, and the mechanics of internal politics.
What poses the greatest challenge to practitioners when conducting internal investigations?
The frenzy and anxiety at the very beginning of such a project, when nothing is clear or organised, but answers and results are already expected. This stage, in my experience, is unavoidable. There is only one remedy: accept it as unavoidable and keep calm. Progress will be made step by step.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to one day be in your position?
I believe that a key quality in professional life, today more than ever, is a certain openness and flexibility to catching opportunities. While this means being prepared to take some risk, my personal experience is that, in hindsight, many of the decisions involving uncertainty and requiring some courage will prove to be the most rewarding. My advice to any young practitioner would thus be to follow an individual path rather than (what seems to be) the main road to Rome.