Major Gift Launches New Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice
Berkeley Law is launching a new center that aims to make the school a national and global leader in the study, research, and practice of consumer law. Established by a founding gift from renowned litigator and Berkeley Law alumna Elizabeth Cabraser, the Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice is the first of its kind among top-tier law schools.
“Consumer law is at work all around us, every day. But it’s almost invisible in law schools,” says Cabraser, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in San Francisco and one of the nation’s foremost consumer advocate/class action attorneys. “This center will actively help protect people in the modern marketplace.”
The new Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice will deliver research and analysis to fuel meaningful policy change. It will file amicus briefs in consumer cases in appellate courts nationwide, provide input to legislatures and regulatory agencies on behalf of low-income consumers, increase student opportunities for hands-on consumer policy work, and produce white papers.
“I am thrilled that we are launching the Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice,” said Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. “I believe that we can create the preeminent university-based center on consumer law in the country and that it will make a huge difference in people’s lives. I am deeply grateful to Elizabeth Cabraser for making this possible.”
The center will co-host the nation’s only conference of consumer law clinics and convene the firstever conference of scholars in the field. It will also bring together public and private sector practitioners, advocates, academics, and students for speaker series, workshops, and collaborative projects.
Ted Mermin, co-founder of the Public Good Law Center, will serve as the center’s interim executive director starting in April.
For a decade, consumer law has flourished at Berkeley Law. The school offered its first consumer law course in 2008, interest quickly blossomed, and five consumer law courses are now offered. Meanwhile, the Consumer Justice Clinic operates within the East Bay Community Law Center, which is affiliated with Berkeley Law. There, students help defend against debt-collection lawsuits, educate consumers on deceptive and predatory lending programs, and litigate against operations that victimize non-English-speaking immigrants.
In 2013, clinic students, working with a coalition of consumers’ rights organizations, succeeded in passing California’s Fair Debt Buying Practices Act. The law targets unscrupulous debt collection agencies that misused courts to exploit low-income consumers. Students later helped pass follow-up bills on debt collection and wage garnishment.
Berkeley Law students have also established the Consumer Advocacy Protection Society and the Consumer Rights Workshop, and the school now has a mentoring program with alumni in the field. Working together, Cabraser and Mermin concluded the time was ripe to create a center that could exert wide-ranging influence statewide and nationally.
Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society members
“While modern consumer law has been around for more than a century, there’s never been an academic hub at a leading school with the mission of figuring out what it encompasses and what it can accomplish,” Mermin says. “That’s a real void we’re eager to fill.”
Richard Cordray, first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, hailed the new center. “The creative energy and practical efforts of this center will help improve the economic lives of all Americans,” he said. “I can tell you that it is needed and welcomed by all who champion the cause of consumers.”
More information about the center can be found on the Berkeley Law website.
Erwin Chemerinsky is a widely known Constitutional Law scholar who frequently argues appellate cases. He is the author of 10 books and is considered one of the foremost figures in legal education. He has been dean of Berkeley Law since July 1.
Ted Mermin is the co-founder and executive director of the Public Good Law Center and the director of the California Low-Income Consumer Coalition. He has assisted local, state, and federal agencies in defending policies in public health and consumer law, litigated consumer rights and public health cases, and written and spoken extensively on free speech, preemption, tobacco control, marketing to children, deceptive advertising, and unfair competition. He teaches Consumer Protection Law at Berkeley Law. He also served for eight years as a deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice.
Elizabeth Cabraser is a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP in San Francisco. Under her leadership, Lieff Cabraser has become one of the country’s largest law firms serving clients seeking redress for financial and consumer fraud, anti-competitive practices, harmful drugs and products, and illegal employment practices. Cabraser has served as court-appointed lead, co-lead, or class counsel in scores of federal multi-district and state coordinated proceedings. Her recent consumer work includes the negotiation, design, approval and implementation of class action settlements, including the vehicle buyback and restitution program in the VW “Clean Diesel” Litigation and the economic loss settlement in the Deepwater horizon Oil Spill Litigation, that focus on delivering major recoveries to consumers, businesses, and employees in innovative ways.