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Ford GC on Teaching His Lawyers To Think Like a Consumer

April 25, 2016, 3:41 PM

Ford general counsel Bradley Gayton is a lawyer, but he’s also a consumer and an internet user — and he knows how annoying overlong privacy policies and terms and conditions can be.

Gayton, who’s been with Ford Motor Company since he clerked for the automaker as a law student, became the company’s top lawyer in January, taking over for David Leitch, now general counsel at Bank of America.

Asked how the legal department is going to change under his leadership, Gayton said he’s asked lawyers to do a better job of putting themselves in the shoes of the consumer: “We said to lawyers, ‘Let’s shift our design thinking. Let’s assume that of course the terms and conditions would be legally compliant — they’ve got to be — but can we adopt an approach that’s more acutely focused on how to make the customer’s life better?’”

Gayton pointed to mobile apps and telematics — a term which refers to a car’s navigation system — as places where the company’s been too focused on legal compliance at the expense of the user’s experience.

“How is the consumer going to experience this app, when we’ve just provided counsel that we need the first thing to be three screens of terms and conditions?” Gayton asked.

Last week, we spoke with Gayton, who took his first job with Ford right out of law school, about the company’s clerkship program, and his plans for the Ford legal department this year.

In the second second installment of the interview, Gayton discusses the legal department’s new customer-conscious mentality, his frustration with conflict waivers, and law firm cybersecurity. Read the first part of the interview here .

Below is an edited transcript of the second installment of the interview.

[caption id="attachment_12844" align="alignleft” width="275"][Image “Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/bgayton-e1461164316212.jpg)]Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.[/caption]

Big Law Business: Is anything going to be different in the legal department under your leadership?

Gayton: In January the leadership team modified our vision a little bit. We decided we want to provide world class legal services that give the company with a competitive advantage, and we want to do that in a way that’s also consumer-centric.

What triggered it? It goes back to what we talked about with the summer program. One of the big advantages we have is a deep understanding of the business. We’re incredibly integrated with the business, and so we sit on operating committees of all of our business units and our skill teams.

We stepped back and said, “How do we help each one of them gain a winning position? What are the business imperatives and opportunities they’re facing?” Let’s ask the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have legal impediments, real or perceived?”

We asked, “Have people constrained their business models based on the perception of legal advice they may have gotten decades ago? Have they constrained their business models because of real legal limitations?” Let’s revisit some of those constraints and ask the question, “What gives us a winning position?” Then, “What’s the legal risk associated with that winning position?”

If we need to walk down from there, “What have we done to the winning position and would have we done to the legal risk profile? Where in there is a right answer?” Let’s reopen that dialogue and see if we can remove any impediments to create winning positions. That was something that we did as well.

We looked at things like mobile apps, websites, and vehicle telematics. As you well know, some of the terms and conditions and privacy statements you have to deal with when you’re interacting with these things can be fairly dense.

The dominant design of these things is that they have a focus on compliance and development laws. That is of course very important, but what we challenged the legal team with is, “How do we still comply, but how do you shift so that it’s more focused on the consumer experience? How is the consumer going to experience this app, when we’ve just provided counsel that we need the first thing to be three screens of terms and conditions?”

We said to lawyers, “Let’s shift our design thinking. Let’s assume that of course the terms and conditions would be legally compliant — they’ve got to be — but can we adopt an approach that’s more acutely focused on how to make the customer’s life better?”

Big Law Business: What’s most important to you in an outside law firm? What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Gayton: I guess one of my pet peeves is you see, increasingly with more global and larger law firms, conflicts starting to be on the rise a bit. One of the things I think can be lost in clearing conflicts is an understanding that it’s the client’s conflict to wave. I think if I had a pet peeve it would be that.

In terms of the things we value it really is firms that spend the time and make the investment to get to know us. We start from a place where we already have a good size law firm that’s sitting inside the company, and as I mentioned to you has deep knowledge of the business, deep knowledge of all the laws that are applicable to this business.

To add value on top of that really does require people to invest the time to get to know our business. It’s not for the faint of heart, because it does require some investment of the firm’s time to get to know us.

Another thing that’s important to us is a broad spectrum of diversity. It’s really important to us that firms are diverse in every way, because we really do believe that through diversity we get to better solutions. I’ve already told you that collaboration is really important to us, and when you’re collaborating with people from diverse backgrounds and it experiences you just get the better answer.

Big Law Business: Cravath and Weil Gotshal made headlines last month for suffering data breaches. How worried are you about law firm cybersecurity?

Gayton: We’ve been focused internally on our own cybersecurity response plan, but when you read headlines like that it certainly does remind us that we need to think a little differently. We need to make sure the same rigors that we have around cybersecurity do exist at the law firms we work with.

It’s going to be a challenge for some, because we work with law firms of various sizes and varying capabilities. It’s made us think about how we protect our data, and also work in a cooperative way with the firms we have, to ensure that we’re protected.