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“More Eager I am to Pay a Lawyer than a Crook”: Consumer Law – No Small Matter for Ordinary People

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A Hillsboro Argus, January 8th, 2008, opinion piece by Nick Christensen is (yet another) example of how difficult it is and how much time, energy, knowledge, and creativity people need to solve what should be simple consumer problems.

Excerpt from whole story:

“…. And I called lawyers, none of whom would return my call, probably because this was a small claims deal and I am 1,000 miles away. Little do they know how much more eager I am to pay a lawyer than a crook….”

Mr. Christiansen had the aptitude and the knowledge to know how to fight this fight, but that still didn’t save him from the hours and hours he had to spend on the problem and the worry. If anything, his knowledge of consumer matters made it worse. He knew perfectly well how badly this could turn out – all of us in the business know what we’re up against.

And, reading the Argus story, I was reminded of the Fresh Air, Terry Gross interview with Bob Sullivan, author of “Gotcha Capitalism: How hidden fees rip you off every day and what you can do about it.”

I’ve been working lately on a proposal for my local bar, judges, and legal aid attorneys to make it easier for non-attorneys to respond to small (!) legal matters such as responding to a civil action or writing a formal complaint, but the problem, as every consumer attorney (and public law librarian) knows, goes far beyond that.

Ordinary people, the ones we in public (and public law) libraries see every day, just don’t know how to navigate the maze of purchases or credit transaction gone wrong, missing checks, mysterious charges on receipts, and all those other small consumer problems, that aren’t so little when you try to fix them.

You don’t always need to take legal action to solve consumer problems, but you do need time, energy, communication skills, knowledge of how the system (business and government regulation) works, and more than all else, the fortitude to see the problem through to resolution without losing one’s cool – not to mention, LOL, when LOL doesn’t stand for laughing out loud, but Lots o’Luck!