Below is NAF Association co-founder and attorney Tom Hudson’s expert review of Winning the Fight – A Guide to Protect Car Dealers, which was written by Steve Levine, co-owner of Ignite Consulting Partners. Tom offers a fresh perspective on Levine’s decades of experience representing car dealers, finance companies and other businesses involved with auto sales, leasing and financing. Read on to find out more about the “good stuff” to learn from this entry into the scarce genre of auto finance.
A car lawyer walks into a bar and takes the barstool next to yours. He orders a cool one for himself and one for you, and starts telling stories.
And what stories! It turns out that this fellow has spent decades as a lawyer representing car dealerships, finance companies and other businesses that deal with the sprawling world of auto sales, leasing and financing. He tells tales that start with his conversion from a New York “My Cousin Vinny” lawyer to an almost home-grown Texas attorney. The stories start with his early years as a not-so-successful litigator in a big firm and track his metamorphosis into a dealer compliance guru.
That trail was familiar to me, since I too had stumbled into a legal practice specializing in the same area, but Steve Levine’s path seems grittier and scrappier than mine had been. His was a very hands-on, close to the ground trek that had him in daily contact with the dealership and financing world. The impression you get from the book is that law school was just the most basic sort of preparation for his real education – learning by doing, day-in and day-out, legal tasks for his clients.
As I read one very readable (very little legalese) story after another, I found myself nodding in agreement as Steve, with a generous serving of self-deprecating humor, describes his advice to his clients. His experience as a litigator – a lawyer who actually tried cases in court, and not one who just read the opinions in cases tried by others – led him to a less pugnacious, more conciliatory approach to dealing with aggrieved consumers and their lawyers. His advice to dealers facing lawsuits is that lawsuits can be extremely dangerous, time-consuming and livelihood-threatening affairs, and that “the first check you can write to settle a case will have the fewest zeroes.” In my experience, that advice is spot-on.
There are other lessons in his stories, as well. One of the most important is that the time for a dealership to get its compliance house in order is before the suit papers are served or the regulators knock at the door. His view is that too many dealers practice “zebra herd” compliance, figuring that if their operations are no worse than thousands of other dealers, the lion isn’t likely to pick them out of the herd. He correctly points out that with the advent of social media and the ability of consumers to air their gripes widely, no dealership is too small to get hit with a suit or an enforcement proceeding, and that “everybody does it” isn’t an effective defense.
Quibbles? Sometimes Steve gets a bit preachy, and the reader feels a bit like he or she is in the middle of a car dealer revival meeting. It’s evident that the book is a collection of articles that Steve had written for various publications, and some of those articles often sounded alike. I think I read the same tale, or parts of it, more than once. But those are minor distractions. Steve is a front-line soldier delivering a valuable message from the legal trenches. Dealers should pay attention.
In my experience, there isn’t exactly a red-hot market for books dealing with consumer auto sales and finance law. Only a few come to mind – Jim Ganther’s “Compliance for Green Peas (And Old Dogs Who Think They Know It All” – and Steve’s effort is a valuable addition to the narrow genre.
So order another cool one and keep reading. There’s good stuff to learn here.