High Tauern National Park – view from Stappitz in the Seebach Valley. Uoaei1 via Wikimedia Commons.

[Update, July 20, 2020:  THIS SPACE WILL BE UPDATED ON SEPTEMBER 12.  As of that date (some eight weeks from now), the Hague Service Convention will enter into force in Austria.  Its declarations are yet to be posted to the HCCH website (they are on the Dutch government’s treaty database…), but the system will work, effectively, the same as in Germany… but without decentralized authorities.  Until early September, I recommend that all service attempts on Austrian defendants be held, in order to avoid the astronomical costs of Letters Rogatory.  Trust me– you’ve got time, if we plan things the right way– and it will ultimately be faster anyway.]

Until a couple of years ago, I had two mental images of Austria.  One was bucolic Salzburg “in the last golden days of the thirties”—that of the Von Trapps and The Sound of Music.  The second was the snowy Vienna of Amadeus—that of footlit operas and an Emperor who looked a little too much like the vice-principal from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Tell me I'm wrong.
Tell me I’m wrong.

In 2015, Woman in Gold changed that… the list now includes the works of Gustav Klimt and an epic legal battle arising from the Nazis’ theft of priceless art works.  I watched the film on a transatlantic flight and was thrilled, but bemused, because the young lawyer handling the case (Ryan Reynolds) walked into Austria’s consulate in Los Angeles with his client (Helen Mirren) and served process by sliding a summons through a banker’s window to a receptionist.

Alarm bells started going off in my head, because for one thing, you shouldn’t hire Deadpool to represent you.  Not even Wade Wilson can just walk into a consulate and drop a summons on the receptionist’s desk.  The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act says otherwise.  (To be sure, I tried to contact Randy Schoenberg, the lawyer played by Reynolds, to see how he actually did it.  No answer.  Either he did it some other way and Hollywood embellished, or defense counsel didn’t know how easy it was to get that thing kicked.)

Woman in Gold, Gutav Klimt, 1907
Woman in Gold, Gustav Klimt, 1907

In any event, a fantastic movie with a compelling story, and a stunning work of art at the center of it all.

In a nutshell, there’s one way to properly effect service in Austria:  a Letter Rogatory, with a couple of twists:

  • Proper translation.  You can’t just send the Letter Rogatory and call it good.  It must be translated into German (along with the summons, complaint, and appendant documents—literally everything handed to the defendant) by an Austrian court-certified translator.  That’s a little guild monopoly* that increases costs usually by a factor of two or three.
  • Proper transmittal.  The Letter must be conveyed via diplomatic channels, upping the ante by another $2,275 fee payable to the State Department.

Two predictions that I anticipate when the Hague Service Convention kicks in…

  • Austria will most likely object to Article 10 methods—they already prohibit them by statute, as I understand it, so I doubt highly that their treaty declarations will indicate otherwise. Australia** joined the treaty only recently, and its declarations mirror its practice before accession to the Convention.  I imagine Austria will do likewise.
  • I also anticipate that the guild monopoly on translation will go away; Mexico has a similar requirement that has been, for the most part, overridden in practice by the Convention.

(My contact info is in the upper right ↗↗↗  if you’re on a desktop.  Or down below ↓↓↓  if you’re on a phone or tablet.  Just sayin’.)

* Seriously—do we lawyers have a right to complain about guild monopolies?

** Don’t mix these up.

[They take opposite views of Article 10 methods, given the common law/civil law divide.]