'Now is the time to act' - Ford launches academy to encourage black students to enter law

Car giant's legal team wants to redress paucity of quality candidates from diverse backgrounds

Ford has unveiled a four-year law academy programme that aims to boost the number of black students entering the law

The project is the brainchild of former Ford general counsel Bradley Gayton – who joined Coca Cola as its GC over the summer – and senior legal counsel Alison Nelson, co-chair of the legal department’s diversity and inclusion committee.

The Ford Law Career Academy kicks off this autumn at the Henry Ford Academy high school in Detroit and will be rolled out next year at another district school, the University Preparatory Academy High School, with the aim of it becoming a nationwide programme.

In a blog published on LinkedIn last month, Gayton said he was the first member of his family to obtain a four-year college degree and the first to become a lawyer.

‘I share this bit of personal history because I want my story to be our story,’ he added. ‘I want this generation of children of colour to be the last of the firsts. Right now, black people make up 13.4 percent of the US population, but only 5 percent of lawyers are black people – the same as ten years ago. My team at Ford wants to change that and as this country works through a long-overdue reckoning on race, we believe now is the time to act.’

The initiative is being backed by Ford and has the ongoing support of Gayton’s successor, John Mellen, formerly deputy associate general counsel, with members of its in-house team providing coaching. It is an elective programme that begins in the ninth grade and includes law theory, negotiation and mock trials, with pupils given the opportunity to shadow lawyers in the field. It will culminate with a senior thesis-type project.

‘All too often, I hear that a company is committed to diversity but there aren’t enough diverse qualified candidates,’ said Gayton. ‘We simply cannot accept that as a dead end. Inside our respective companies and industries, we must look to the root of the problem and put in the work to fix them.’

In September, Dentsu Aegis Network general counsel Simon Zinger launched a global initiative to encourage legal and compliance leaders to commit to an oath to drive positive changes across the profession, their organisations and society.

The ‘General Counsel Oath’ is inspired by the Hippocratic Oath and is designed to build on existing professional and ethical rules by focusing on personal behaviours that support social justice and other progressive issues.

In January, The Black General Counsel 2025 initiative to double the number of black general counsel at Fortune 1000 companies launched its official website.

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