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Baker McKenzie's Sixth Forum for Law and Social Market Economy addresses trust matters in politics and economy

On September 22nd 2016, Baker McKenzie hosted the "Forum for Law and Social Market Economy" for the sixth time. This year's topic was "Elites without followers? How politics and the economy can resolve the lack of trust". About 200 guests, including politicians and business leaders, accepted the law firm's invitation to the Carmelites Monastery in Frankfurt. As was also the case at the previous Forum events, Baker McKenzie was able to retain two prominent keynote speakers: Prof. Dr. Dr. Udo Di Fabio, former judge at the Federal Constitutional Court, and Dr. Katrin Vernau, the WDR's administrative director, gave two impressive speeches on trust. These keynote speeches were followed by a panel discussion, which Dr. Gregor Gysi, member of the German parliament, Elisabeth Niejahr, head of the Berlin office of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, and Dr. Melinda Crane, chief correspondent of Deutsche Welle TV, USA & Germany, joined as panelists.

Dr. Constanze Ulmer-Eilfort, Baker McKenzie's Managing Partner, welcomed the guests in the monastery's historic dining hall. She inter alia explained the role of attorneys-at-law in the process of building trust. In their capacity as members of the legal system, they were also guardians of trust and have to instruct their clients on ethically responsible conduct. She further pointed out that the practice of international law firms is changing and that strategic advice on compliance, data protection and Industry 4.0 is becoming more and more important. Trust is also a prerequisite to identifying and seizing opportunities in a world becoming more and more complex.

Udo Di Fabio, former judge at the Federal Constitutional Court, gave an intellectual and passionate speech, portraying a comprehensive concept of trust. He started with the anthropological origin of trust, the parent-child relationship which, according to Udo Di Fabio, laid the foundation for each subsequent trust relationship. This trust of children in their parents is later reflected in the trust of the society in authorities. In times of crisis, the society expects these authorities to prove themselves and find a way out of difficult situations.

Professor Di Fabio remarked that often there is a lack of trust in institutions. The loss of trust and the resulting chasm has several reasons, in particular the deregulation of the international financial markets and the tensions in European politics. He claimed that the EU often developed promising concepts, but failed to put them into practice. The former judge sees large deficits in providing people with sufficient information to understand international politics, which he considers the real reason for the protests against the free-trade agreements TTIP and CETA. "What we experience today is that individual social systems operate in a highly functional manner, while becoming more and more disconnected from each other." Finally, Professor Di Fabio emphasized the importance of individual personalities for the establishment of trust and criticized the destructive impact of managers "insisting on their bonuses at any cost".

The former judge at the Federal Constitutional Court then gave the floor to Dr. Katrin Vernau, the WDR's administrative director and former partner of the consulting firm Roland Berger as well as former chancellor of two universities. Considering her diversified background, she was able to cover the whole spectrum of trust in every aspect of society. In her speech, she outlined the prerequisites for trust. She addressed recent corporate scandals and explained the specific causes for loss of trust, for instance a purely product-centric understanding of trust, and gave practical, positive counter-examples. With regard to public broadcasting, she analyzed lapses and misunderstandings in communication. Ms. Vernau explained how leadership personalities, within the scope of their entrepreneurial action, can build a trust relationship with different stakeholders. From customers, employees and suppliers to ambitious young talent from the Generation Y, a culture of trust can be established if errors are dealt with in an honest and open manner, she believes.

After Ms. Vernau concluding her speech, Dr. Burkard Göpfert, Employment Law Partner at Baker McKenzie, opened the panel discussion on trust, which he also chaired. The panelists were Professor Di Fabio and Ms. Vernau as well as Dr. Melinda Crane, chief correspondent of Deutsche Welle TV, USA & Germany, Elisabeth Niejahr, head of the Berlin office of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, and Dr. Gregor Gysi, member of the German parliament. They discussed the reasons for the loss of trust in politics and economy and potential solutions in a dedicated and humorous manner, while at the same acknowledging the seriousness of the topic. Burkard Göpfert emphasized the current interest and relevance of trust by referring to the recent Landtag elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin and the upcoming presidential elections in the US.

Driven by the related urgent issues in this context, the discussion turned out to be fairly political. Melinda Crane provided an interesting insight into the current atmosphere in the US. She drew parallels to Germany, for instance by comparing the economic situation in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and its implications with the situation in Iowa. Gregor Gysi outlined the major principles pursued in international politics and repeatedly recounted both trust-building and trust-destroying moments. He also entertained the audience with witty anecdotes from his time as member of the German parliament. Elisabeth Niejahr, head of the Berlin office of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT, explained that a simple and comprehensible language was becoming more and more important in all sectors. This view was shared by all her co-panelists.

Burkard Goepfert concluded the discussion by acknowledging the different proposals for a way out of the trust crisis. He emphasized that it was no option to passively stand by and watch the further decline of trust in politics and economy and that strong individuals were required to build new trust.

Pictures and film footage on the event can be viewed below:




The social market economy is the core of Germany's social model. This highly recognized model has achieved extraordinary success. However, the ever increasing globalization and competitive pressure, demographic developments and the subsequently triggered reforms of social security systems led to a decline in its acceptability in recent years.

The economy is also suffering under a loss of trust. Cases of corruption, data protection breaches and tax evasion have not only damaged the good reputation of many companies but also brought about significant economic losses. Measures on short-term maximization of profit and hasty implemented processes of change are damaging corporate culture. Decreasing employee loyalty and lack of strength in times of crisis are the consequences.

In addition, communication problems come along. Politics and businesses have to convey their considerations and decisions to the public and parties concerned. This doesn't always turn out well.

Building trust in the social market economy, politics, business and leadership is nowadays more important than ever. Politicians and business representatives equally face the challenge to strengthen trust in the social market economy by ethically responsible actions and transparency in decision-making processes.

We at Baker McKenzie strive to make our contribution: As lawyers, we bear daily responsibility towards our clients and act as guardians and at the same time mediators of trust. We want to set an example as pioneers among the global law firms.

"We must say what we think. We must do what we say. We must also be what we do."
- Alfred Herrhausen



Event Contact:

Gabriele Chomrak
Head of Client & Corporate Events
Baker & McKenzie Partnerschaft von Rechtsanwälten,
Wirtschaftsprüfern und Steuerberatern mbB
60311 Frankfurt/Main
Tel.: +49 69 2 99 08 177
Fax: +49 69 2 99 08 108


Press Contact:

Barbara Gruber
Head of Media Relations
Baker & McKenzie Partnerschaft von Rechtsanwälten,
Wirtschaftsprüfern und Steuerberatern mbB
60311 Frankfurt/Main
Tel.: +49 69 2 99 08 327
Fax: +49 69 2 99 08 108


Forum for Law & Social Market Economy

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With our Forum for Law & Social Market Economy initiative, we strive to contribute towards revitalizing and strengthening the trust in our legal and economical system. Recognized experts from politics, economy, media and science, Baker McKenzie lawyers and invited guests discuss current challenges and present their considerations. The discussion will focus on topics such as the need for transparent and ethically responsible actions, the delegation of responsibility, and resulting accountability.


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