The Role of Trust in the Legal World: Interview with Peter Jackson, CEO of Hill Dickinson LLP

Peter was elected as Hill Dickinson’s first CEO in 2016 having been Managing Partner since 2006. Hill Dickinson is an international commercial law firm with more than 840 people, including 175 partners and legal directors. The firm acts as a trusted adviser to businesses, organisations and individuals across the world and from a wide range of market sectors. In this interview, Peter shares his reflections on the role that trust plays in the legal world and its highly competitive marketplace.

On the importance of trust:                                                               

‘Trust is incredibly important in our business. Let me give you three pragmatic examples of where trust is essential and actually benefits the business as a whole. If I start externally, relationships with our clients are built on trust. We are a service provider in a highly competitive market and our success has come from the fact that our clients trust the advice they get from us.  It is incredibly important for our clients that they have that trust in the people with whom they are speaking, i.e. that they become “trusted advisers” to them. With that in mind, I could give you innumerable examples of our partners being relied upon by our clients, not necessarily just for legal advice, but as the first port of call when there is a business, or even a personal issue, that they want to talk through with somebody whose views they respect and trust.’

‘The second example is about the importance of trust as an enabler in helping us to grow the business through cross-selling to our clients. I am always urging my partners to cross-sell but they can only do that if they trust each other. In the commercial sense, externally, trust is paramount because you will not get that consistency of service, that ability to cross-sell and to develop your client to their maximum potential without it.’

‘Thirdly, we have external investors with whom we have a relationship, and we have a relationship with our regulator. All those relationships are built on trust and I am always more likely to receive a positive welcome if the bank has trust in my management team. If they don’t, then it’s more likely that funding will not be there at a time when we need it.’

‘Finally, looking internally, partnerships have to be built on trust. There is so much that is unwritten in any partnership arrangement, and so much that has to be that way, that unless you’ve got a modicum of trust between partners, then the relationship is just not going to work. The world is changing, we’re all becoming more corporate in outlook, I fully accept that. One-third of our workforce is millennial, and therefore more mobile. Without our workforce we’re nothing. We can’t deliver services to clients and we can’t drive a profitable, thriving, successful business without trust. There has to be trust in the managers and the partners for us to achieve our maximum potential as a business by releasing the full potential of our staff through trust.’

On building a high trust culture:

‘Building a high trust culture is about two major features, although there’s a myriad of issues that come into play here. These two features are communications and transparency. A good example of the importance of communications is the cross-selling aspect that I mentioned earlier. Partners will not get the maximum potential from the client unless they trust the partner they introduce. The only way they can build that trust is through communicating. I see it as part of my job to help this process by creating opportunities for partners to talk to each other.’

On the challenge of measuring trust:

‘To be honest, I’m not sure we do measure trust in so many terms. I think we are still at the stage where we measure trust through gut feel, intuition, and knowing when it’s not there. It’s not measurement, but the four values that we build the business around are trust, respect, innovation, and collaboration. We codify examples of elements of trust and elements of distrust in our partners’ charter. For example, we denounce silo working. We encourage generosity of client introductions, cross-selling between teams, etc.  The plain fact is that we still measure much of our business by hard numbers.’

The Nine Habits of Trust:

The Nine Habits of Trust Model

Peter’s passion, energy and commitment, and enthusiasm for trust comes across in this interview. He is a great role model of a trustworthy leader for people in the organisation. Coupled with that is Peter’s humility (Habit no. 6). The phrase he repeated often during the interview was “we’re nothing without our people” which speaks volumes for his leadership. Turning to the organisation, it comes as no surprise to discover that Hill Dickinson’s core strength derives from professional ability nurtured through coaching (Habit no. 1 and Habit no. 2), and this comes with the honesty and openness to admit that there is scope for greater consistency across the business worldwide (Habit no.3).

In terms of development, it’s the benevolence pillar that is the key to Hill Dickinson’s future success. With the strengths that Hill Dickinson has as “trusted advisers”, and the effect that this continues to have on the success of the business, there is a real opportunity for the organisation to enhance performance even further by evangelising, i.e. “bringing the good news” about the extraordinary benefits of trustworthy leadership on results, relationships and reputation.’

Our thanks to Peter for his time and for allowing us to share his insights from the interview.

Find out more about the work The Trusted Executive Foundation is doing with organisations to build and measure trust.

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