A consumer protection attorney is a lawyer who focuses his or her practice on interpreting and applying local consumer protection laws. These kinds of lawyers can perform a wide variety of work, from drafting regulatory codes to filing or defending lawsuits based on an alleged harm to a consumer. No matter the contours of their day-to-day tasks, however, all consumer protection law work centers on ensuring that companies conduct business in a way that is fair and transparent to consumers.
Almost every country has laws that are designed specifically toward protecting consumers. Local governments, including states and provinces, also often regulate consumer protection. For the most part, these laws are designed to prevent citizens and residents from fraud, injury, and other harms. Most government consumer protection agencies employ attorneys to both draft and enforce these laws, and companies hire consumer protection attorneys to ensure that their business practices are compliant with the law. A consumer protection attorney might also work in private practice, bringing lawsuits on behalf of individuals who have been harmed or defending companies who have been sued.
There is rarely just one consumer protection law. More often, consumer protection is a body of many different laws touching on aspects of the buying, selling, and transacting process. Consumer protection laws usually focus on protecting consumers from predatory or harmful practices by corporate actors. Transactions and sales between individuals are not usually covered.
The bulk of consumer protection law deals with financial transactions, incorporating many of the major elements of bankruptcy law and collection law. Credit card fees and terms, loans, debt relief services, and bankruptcy provisions are often some of the most regulated financial transactions. Individuals facing financial difficulty or debt are often more vulnerable to dubious loans or financial scams. Consumer protection laws — and the attorneys who enforce and defend them — can shield consumers from being taken advantage of. A consumer protection attorney can also help consumers who have already suffered losses as a result of scam or other fraud make at least a partial recovery.
Product liability can also be a major part of a consumer protection lawyer’s focus. Most governments see a vested interest in protecting their people from shoddy merchandise. Products like cars, baby carriers, and children’s toys are among the most highly regulated under most national consumer protection schemes. This is in large part because of the high risk of serious injury or death that can result from even a small oversight or error.
Much of research that helps legislators and lawmakers design consumer protection laws comes from lawyers. A consumer protection lawyer who works for a national or local consumer protection agency usually acts as an adviser to the people responsible for drafting the laws. Lawyers in this capacity analyze how effective the current laws are, and evaluate how new trends and products are impacting the regulatory landscape.
A consumer protection attorney who works in the private sector usually focuses on deciphering how those regulations apply to specific situations. He or she determines whether certain fact patterns fall within the purview of the reigning consumer protection law, then either mounts or defends lawsuits accordingly. Most of the time, a consumer protection attorney in private practice focuses on but one narrow aspect of the law. Because consumer law touches so many different transactions, it is rare for a lawyer to have the expertise to represent more than one certain kind of claim.