Excellence Under Pressure

Exploring the emotional strategies employed by some of Germany’s top lawyers to navigate the pandemic

What can we learn from high-performing partners’ use of emotional strategies to foster resilience within themselves and their people?

By Madeleine Bernhardt and Emma Ziercke.

Given the VUCA-world in which we live, emotional intelligence and resilience are essential skills for law-firm partners’ success in navigating disruptive times. How do high performing partners use their emotional capital in order to foster their individual resilience, to motivate and support their people and to help their firm thrive, especially in highly challenging times? In order to answer these and further questions, the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession conducted in-depth interviews in August and September 2020 with 14 of Germany’s most successful lawyers. We wanted to examine the emotional strategies employed by such top performers in order to share best-practices used by partners in highly challenging times.

Our results demonstrate that top performers employ emotional strategies both intentionally and unintentionally. The partners tended towards rather diverse notions of emotional intelligence and resilience, and this resulted in diverging opinions on whether such competencies would be relevant to law firm success in the future, and whether there was scope was for making strategic use of emotional intelligence for organisational development.

As a result, we have developed a model of a four-dimensional partner which seeks to expand our understanding of emotional intelligence and resilience by combining the dimensions of cognitive behaviour (cognitive awareness and regulation), emotional behaviour (emotional awareness and regulation), physical behaviour (sport, nutrition, sleep) and motivational aspects (values, purpose, inner compass). Considering and further developing all four dimensions will enhance partners’ individual resilience and emotionally intelligent behaviours and thus contribute to a healthy working environment and a successful law firm.

Read the ebook online, or download the PDF.

#MadeleineBernhardt #EmmaZiercke. #pandemic #lawfirms #emotionalintelligence

About the Authors

Madeleine Bernhardt (l)

Prof. Dr. jur. Madeleine Bernhardt, LL.M. is a lawyer, psychologist and certified Business Coach (European Coaching Association). She is the founder of Deep Human Science (, a consultancy that focuses on taking leadership in professional service firms to the next level. Madeleine Bernhardt is member of the Executive Faculty of the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession (Hamburg). She regularly conducts leadership development programs for professional service firms and consults to international law firm partners on the strategic development of leadership. She holds a professorship for personnel and organizational development at the University of Applied Sciences of the State Police of Brandenburg and focuses in her research on leadership in organizations and the effective implementation of tools for personnel and organizational development as well as on the improvement of organizational efficacy. Contact details:

Emma Ziercke (r)

Emma Ziercke, Senior Research Associate, is a non-practising solicitor (England & Wales) and senior research associate at the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession (CLP) at the Bucerius Law School, Hamburg. Following her studies in Law and French Law and Language at the Universities of East Anglia (Norwich, England) and Jean Moulin Lyon III (France), Emma Ziercke worked as a Corporate Solicitor for Linklaters in London from 2002 until 2009. As a Managing Associate she was primarily involved in private international mergers and acquisitions, reorganisations, public takeovers by scheme of arrangement and general company law.

After moving to Hamburg, Emma studied part-time for an Executive MBA at Nottingham University Business School, focussing on law firm management and organisational behaviour. In 2014 she completed her studies with distinction and won an award for best overall performance together with an award for her dissertation on Gender Diversity in Law Firms. The dissertation was carried out as a case study, the purpose of which was to understand the underlying reasons for the high attrition rate of talented female lawyers in the

United Kingdom and Germany.

Emma currently works at the Bucerius Center on the Legal Profession as a senior research associate in the fields of Law Firm Management, Gender Diversity and Organisational Behaviour. Her main interest is in gender and generational diversity in the profession, and she has spoken on this topic at a number of events. A list of her publications can be found here: Furthermore, Emma teaches Law Firms of Tomorrow, a course on law firm management, for the International Exchange Students at the Bucerius Law School. Contact details: |