Koerber attended the elite Theresianum boarding school in Vienna and, having obtained his Matura degree, went on to study law at the University of Vienna. He became extremely involved in Austrian culture and politics. The study of the Rechtsstaat ("legal state") doctrine, or constitutionality and civil rights was popular during Koerber's teen years and Koerber and his constitutionally-minded peers such as Sieghart, Steinbach, Baernreither, and Redlich learned and immersed themselves in this principle.
On January 18, 1900, Körber was appointed minister-president as well as interior minister; in 1902 he added to this minister of justice. Körber, an experienced civil servant, was brought in to quell riots in Prague and to allay deteriorating relations between Emperor Francis Joseph and the Reichsrat. In June 1900, he launched a massive program of domestic spending (Danube-Oder Canal, expansion of the harbor at Trieste, Tauern-Wochein railroad) designed to stimulate the sluggish economy. His relations with the Hungarians were never the best, however. Körber's proposals in 1902 for the renewal of the Compromise of 1867 were flatly rejected in Budapest, and the minister-president's opposition to Hungarian plans to divide the common army into two separate Austrian and Hungarian armies was well known. Moreover, Körber was unable to convince the Czechs to go along with his plans to use German as the language of administration only in districts where this was warranted; the Young Czechs sought to abolish completely the use of German as the official language. Körber resigned his posts on December 31, 1904, and totally withdrew from public life for the next eleven years.
On February 7, 1915, he agreed to return as joint minister of finance and as administrator of Bosnia, and after the assassination of Count Karl von Stiirgkh on October 28, 1916, Körber accepted the minister-presidency for a second time. His candidacy led many to expect a modification of the system of wartime absolutism, but Körber was not up to the task. He was deeply pessimistic about the future of the Dual Monarchy, and when the new Emperor Charles sent Count Leopold von Berchtold to confront Körber with the alternative either to accept a moderate Compromise with Hungary or to resign, the minister-president opted for the latter on December 14, 1916. His relations with Charles had been strained for some time. The experienced bureaucrat Körber objected to the monarch's refusal to take the coronation oath, while Charles disliked the elder statesman's strong stand on renegotiating a new ten-year Compromise with the Magyars. For the last two years of the war, Körber became an inveterate opponent of what he termed Charles' "experimental policies." He died at Baden, near Vienna, on March 5, 1919.