When Volvo Trucks senior management first directed its legal department to begin participating in management meetings, Dave Wall, global legal counsel, was skeptical. As one of two attorneys stationed in North America responsible for nearly all back-end activities of the company’s business—which includes the Volvo and Mack truck brands—he was concerned that the meetings wouldn’t make the best use of the time required to support three hundred internal clients and colleagues within other legal functions.
Wall quickly realized that developing closer cross-functional relationships and gaining a deeper understanding of company operations actually makes the legal department more efficient. That’s because it can be involved in a wide variety of projects and issues earlier, and proactively identify and avoid risks before they become problems.
“I’ve accumulated a lot of institutional knowledge during my time with the company, but I’m now a firm believer that the legal function has to have a seat at the table at all levels of management and operations,” he says. “And we can’t just be observers. We have to be regular participants who contribute to the conversation.”
Being embedded in operations has normalized interactions with the business and encouraged questions that might never have been asked in the past, he says. For example, the supplier quality assessment department wanted to know whether images of suppliers’ production line personnel, taken as part of vendor audits, are considered personal data and raise legal concerns under the European General Data Protection Regulation. The question illustrated a deep understanding of nuanced legal concepts that resulted from the training the legal department had provided.
As a team member, Wall has benefitted from better perspectives and insights into decision-making processes and project execution. He points to his involvement in Volvo’s development of electromobility in California, from which he was able to draw connections to an earlier 2014 project and to ongoing European R&D. He also gained a better understanding of infrastructure requirements, like the proximity of charging stations to California’s ports and the types of trucks best suited to the project.
“Because I get directly involved with business, technology, and operations people, I’ve been able to gain a broader perspective of the different activities Volvo is involved in and how they directly and indirectly impact each other,” Wall explains.
He was able use this to the company’s advantage when he worked with various global stakeholders to negotiate a collaboration agreement with FedEx for a partnership to develop platooning. This is a strategy that uses cooperative adaptive cruise control—a wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology—that reduces reaction times to traffic conditions and enables multiple trucks manned with professional drivers to travel closer together than normal. The results are reduced drag, improved fuel efficiency, and overall greener operation for the platooned vehicles.
“Having been involved with the sales teams, I know what an important customer FedEx is,” Wall says. “I definitely took that into account when I considered how to approach important issues like liability terms and IP provisions as part of our agreement.”
Now that he works more closely with the business, Wall has seen the value in providing guidelines on how to request support from the legal department. His team has created an easy-to-read, practical set of instructions about the appropriate legal resources to contact for specific types of issues along with checklists of items that are required to proceed. Wall expects this will streamline requests for support and avoid duplication of efforts from both clients and attorneys.
Wall says that the continuous learning and cross-culture collaboration that result from being embedded in the business have been two of the most influential factors in his success at Volvo. He believes that both create opportunities for exposure to new strategies and to develop new personal and professional skill sets.
To help illustrate, he points to the differences between the Americans’ hard-charging, individual-focused priority to get things done quickly, and the Swedes’ more time-consuming consensus-based, collaborative approach. “Both approaches have a place in achieving our organization’s short- and long-term objectives, and in understanding the cultural dynamics that help me execute those objectives more effectively,” he says. “The more tactics you have at your disposal, the better prepared you are for whatever issue you might be facing.”