Whenever I tell someone I’m a consumer lawyer, I know to expect the puzzled look. The furrowed brow, the inquiring stare. “Consumer lawyer, huh?” “So what do you do, exactly?”
Given how broad consumer credit law is, there’s a lot of long answers I could give, and have given, at different times. In a nutshell though, consumer lawyers do the following: (1) help people who have fallen on financial hard times defend themselves against lawsuits, and (2) help people who have gotten screwed over financially in certain ways sue to get money back.
One of the challenges of practicing consumer law is that you are trying to help people enforce legal rights they mostly didn’t know they had. For example, most people who have fallen on hard times aren’t aware that there are limits to what debt collectors and creditors can do to collect a debt. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the Pennsylvania Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (“FCEUA”) make it illegal for debt collectors and creditors to threaten to have you arrested, to speak to your neighbors about your debt, or to call you after 9 p.m., among other prohibitions. Another example that most people aren’t aware of is Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”) and the related Automotive Industry Trade Practices Act (“AITPA”) regulations; these make it illegal for auto mechanics and dealers to engage in deceptive conduct, such as charging for work that didn’t occur or was not needed, or selling you a junk car without disclosing the problems.
A second challenge about being a consumer lawyer is the fact that many people automatically assume that they can’t afford a lawyer. The thing is, many times that’s not true! One wonderful thing about many consumer laws is that they have “fee-shifting” language. If you win your case, this fee-shifting language requires the other side to pay for your lawyer’s fees. In other words, if you have a strong case a consumer lawyer may be able to represent you without you having to pay up front!
In these challenging economic times, almost everyone knows someone who is struggling financially. If someone you know is having money problems, and consequently legal problems, it’s worth talking to a consumer lawyer. You might be surprised how helpful we can be!