DETROIT – General Motors is overhauling its legal department as the automaker tries to break down silos that delayed the recall of millions of cars for a defect linked to 13 deaths, people familiar with the matter said.
General Counsel Michael Millikin has assigned a legal adviser to work with the heads of global safety and vehicle development so that information about defects is shared more quickly between departments, one of the people said.
Millikin expects further changes after an internal investigation is completed in coming weeks, said the person, who requested anonymity because the matter is private.
Transforming GM’s legal culture won’t be easy: Its lawyers have spent their careers battling to keep potentially incriminating safety information out of the hands of trial lawyers.
In one case, lawyers tried to bury an internal memo that calculated the cost to the automaker of fuel-fed fire deaths, according to internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg News. Employees were discouraged from using words including decapitation, deathtrap, eviscerated and mutilating that could be used against GM in court, according to an internal memo released by the U.S. government last week.
Corporate counsel is a reflection of management, said James Butler, a Columbus, Georgia, lawyer who has fought GM over defects for 25 years and claims a 35-0 record against the automaker. You have to change the whole culture.
Mary Barra, CEO since January, already has shaken up GM’s communications, public policy, human resources and engineering teams.