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Porter's Modern Consumer Law

posted by Bob Lawless

Porter Consumer LawCredit Slips blogger Katie Porter has produced a new textbook in consumer law that anyone teaching the subject should consider adopting. Indeed, law professors not teaching consumer law should to take a look at it and consider whether they should add the class to their teaching portfolio. A 2013 poll on Brian Leiter's Law School Reports named consumer law as the number one "area of law which deserves more attention in the legal academy." Next academic year I will be picking up a new course, and the emergence of Porter's new text made the decision easy for me as to which course it will be.

In the preface, Porter makes explicit her three-pronged approach to the topic of consumer law:

  1. The book situates consumer law within the business-law curriculum. "Consumer law is big business," she notes. Understanding the legal issues requires understanding the "deal," the information flow, and the market in which the transaction occurs. Porter expressly recognizes, "the world of consumer practice offers opportunities for lawyers to represent consumers (as government lawyers, policy advocates, and plaintiffs’ attorneys) and to represent businesses (as in-house counsel, defense attorneys, and
    lobbyists)."
  2. The book provides a strong theoretical frame by situating consumer law at the intersection of tort and contract. The book does not present consumer law as a hodgepodge of cases and statutes loosely organized around the term "consumer." Rather it recognizes that a lot of what travels under the law of "consumer law" responds to the gaps that traditional contract and torts doctrines have when it comes to the issues that consumer transactions create.
  3. The book explores where the social-science literature has learning for consumer law. Porter looks to see what psychology, sociology, marketing, and economics can add to our understanding of the legal issues. By doing so, the book explores the difference between law on the ground and law in the books. 

The book uses a problem-based method of instruction that will be familiar to users of Porter's co-authored bankruptcy textbook or my co-authored secured transactions textbook. The problems range from straight-forward statute readers to teach doctrine to tough client counseling problems that focus on real-world lawyering skills.

More information, including a table of contents and a sample chapter, can be found at Aspen Publishers.

Comments

As far as theory goes, I've never viewed consumer law as having much to do with contract law, because most contract rights have always been irrelevant to most consumers, most of the time. Sosume? It doesn't happen for small transactions.
Instead, I view the key gap as in trademark law. Generally, consumers rely on the identity of their vendors and generally this works. As a general matter, if a business screws its customers, they won't see them again and everybody knows this. Think of your local grocer or hardware store--or for that matter, Amazon. It's all about reputation, and trademark is the law of reputation.
However, consumers don't always know they're being screwed, or the business model may rely on making 99% of customers happy and badly screwing 1%. (Yes, financial sector, I'm thinking of you.) Here, trademark breaks down and consumer law becomes all-important.

Wow Ebenezer - Very enlightening.

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