The global manufacturer Honda states on its website that it is guided, in part, by a fundamental belief in “Respect for the Individual.” Brent Nichols, senior counsel at the company’s Los Angeles office, is happy to report the precept to be true.
“You hear corporations make those kinds of statements all the time, but here, they’re very much committed to the customer, to doing the right thing,” Brent said. “There really is a dedication to producing and manufacturing a great product that adds value to the world.”
He fell into his current role of handling litigation and compliance matters for Honda rather organically. During his time as an associate in Sidley’s L.A. office, from 2006 to 2014, Brent spent a few months working on-site at American Honda Finance Corporation (AHFC), the motor vehicle brand’s leasing and financing arm. When a position opened at AHFC, he was encouraged to apply, and ultimately accepted the post.
Brent explains that his typical day might begin with interfacing for a couple hours with the company’s East Coast offices, and addressing any questions clients may have. Then, he might review briefs, and follow up with outside counsel on specific matters and research regulatory and compliances issues. He finds that the biggest difference in the work since moving in-house, “Is that at a large law firm you maybe work on three or four large matters at once, whereas in-house, you work on dozens of matters, which run the gamut from large to small, and you have resources and outside help.”
While many consumer-oriented companies suffer from a push and pull between their business and legal departments, Brent says it’s the opposite at Honda. “There’s kind of a partnership. We understand their business—to sell cars and engage customers—and they share our commitment to compliance. So it integrates really well.”
Brent has found that the auto finance industry has changed in the past several years as it has become more regulated. By way of example, he cites the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, founded in 2011, which now regulates auto finance companies. He explained that “Regulators and the media have greatly enhanced customer and media awareness of different issues relating to leasing and lending, which is great,” and added that it can sometimes be a challenge to discuss very nuanced regulatory issues with customers and dealers.
He has continued his relationship with Sidley by partnering regularly with the firm as in-house counsel. He fondly recalls enjoying handling some of Sidley’s complex matters as an associate, which featured rolling up sleeves beside Josh Anderson, Alycia Degen, Doug Axel and Chris Munsey. Brent was gratified to note the recent dismissal of a False Claims Act case he worked on for Raytheon in 2008, involving alleged defense contractor fraud. “That was a very rewarding thing to see,” he said.
Outside of his career, Brent, who incidentally drives the new Honda Ridgeline truck, and his wife, Jennifer Lam, a lawyer at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, enjoy cooking and entertaining at their L.A. home. One of their favorite pastimes involves using their large grill smokers in their backyard. Brent even learned how to cure his own pastrami, bacon and turkey.
The only “problem” is his parents. “They’re vegan,” he said, sadly.
Published March 2017 - UPDATE, Deputy City Attorney; Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office
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