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 What are Consumer Lawyers?

A consumer issue may arise whenever an individual purchases services or goods as a consumer. There are numerous consumer protection laws at both the state level and the federal level.

These laws are intended to protect consumers from dishonest or unfair practices by sellers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the main federal agency that is tasked with protecting the rights of consumers.

In addition, the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the FTC enforces the different federal laws that are meant to prevent exploitative and deceptive practices in the consumer economy. Consumer protection laws typically involve numerous different legal concepts.

Consumer protection lawyers advocate for the rights of their clients in civil lawsuits to ensure that the businesses are adhering to all of the regulations that are placed upon them. Consumer lawyers may work through the Consumer Protection Agency.

The Consumer Protection Agency is an agency that is tasked with regulating the consumer industry. This agency licenses and regulates professionals, conducts investigations into consumer and financial scams, and criminally prosecuted scammers.

The Consumer Protection Agency can also assist injured individuals with bringing civil lawsuits against fraudulent professionals or businesses. Usually, the Consumer Protection Agency will conduct an investigation into alleged fraudulent business misconduct as well as make a determination regarding whether the business was, in fact, fraudulent.

What Do Consumer Lawyers Cover?

Consumer law focuses largely on civil remedies to resolve issues. The most common example would be filing a lawsuit.

In some cases, however, consumer protection laws also allow for criminal sanctions. In these types of cases, a prosecutor may file charges in cases that involve criminal misconduct, including consumer fraud or embezzlement.

Consumer protection attorneys may work in any of the following types of practices:

  • Advocacy groups, working on behalf of a public interest organization;
  • Large law firms which work to help corporations understand and adhere to all relevant consumer protection measures;
  • Small law firms, as well as solo practices, working on behalf of individuals;
  • In-house counsel, for example, a consumer law attorney working directly for a company; and
  • Government agencies, to work to enforce consumer protection laws by using executive enforcement proceedings as well as other judicial actions.

There are many attorneys who choose to specialize in consumer law because they are interested in the always changing aspects of consumer protection. These types of attorneys will be required to frequently re-educate themselves on consumer laws in order to stay current as well as relevant.

These types of positions are, in general, stable and allow for long-term employment. Some attorneys may go into this field with the hopes of pursuing political aspirations because a position as attorney general could eventually lead to a bid for governor or congress.

Numerous attorneys specialize in consumer protection due to the fact that they genuinely care about protecting other individuals and ensuring that their needs are met. Consumer lawyers often find these positions personally rewarding in addition to providing them with a stable living.

What are Some Common Legal Issues Consumers Face?

Common consumer issues include:

  • Consumers’ lack of information or bargaining power;
  • False advertising and deceptive business practices;
  • Consumer fraud issues;
  • Predatory lending and financial scams;
  • Issues regarding product safety and defects;
    • It is important to note that there are various parties that may be held civilly liable in cases involving product defects. For example, parties that may be held liable include:
      • the store that sold the product;
      • the wholesaler; and
      • the manufacturer; and
  • Personal injuries resulting from dangerous or defective products.

Other common legal issues that a consumer may face include:

  • A breach of contract;
  • A breach of consumer warranty;
  • Product recalls and products liability claims;
  • Identity fraud; and
  • Being billed for products and services that were not provided.

In order for an individual to pursue a resolution for these types of issues, any individual who believes their consumer rights have been violated may take the following steps:

  • Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC);
  • Filing a complaint with the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division in their state;
  • Filing a complaint with their Better Business Bureau (BBB);
  • Filing a complaint in small claims court; or
  • Hiring a consumer protection attorney if the case involves large monetary damages or when the consumer feels that the various administrative and state remedies are not sufficient.

What is a Corporate In-House Lawyer?

A corporate in-house lawyer is an attorney who is employed directly by a corporation. Therefore, an in-house attorney does not work for a law firm that is retained by the company.

It is common for large corporations to employ a whole department of in-house attorneys to serve the legal needs of the corporation.

Why Do Corporations Hire In-House Lawyers?

Numerous corporations engage in various business activities which require systematic legal attention. Hiring an in-house attorney is, in general, more cost-effective than retaining a law firm.

What are Some Duties of In-house Lawyers?

The services of an in-house lawyer frequently include:

  • Negotiating and drafting contracts required for corporate business activities;
  • Ensuring compliance with hiring and firing anti-discrimination laws;
  • Monitoring compliance with work wages, hours, and employee benefits laws;
  • Providing general legal oversight, compliance, and due diligence; and
  • Supervising the work of outside attorneys hired for specific purposes.

What do In-House Counsel Attorneys not Do?

In-house attorneys are similar to family doctors for an entire corporation. Corporations can face legal issues, such as disputes, that require specialized assistance.

For example, if a legal action is filed against the corporation, the in-house attorney will usually not handle the lawsuit. There are several situations in which outside legal assistance may be necessary.

For example, a corporation may need to hire outside counsel for complex legal disputes or when the in-house resources of the corporation are limited. In addition, an officer, director, or employee may be required to hire outside legal help from a business attorney who will not have a legal duty to the corporation.

What Should I Look for when Hiring In-House Counsel?

A general counsel for a corporation reports to the CFO or the CEO and will be required to work closely with the officers and directors on the goals and budget constraints of the business. In addition, the following characteristics or skills may be relevant to the search for a general counsel:

  • Prior startup or in-house experience: Prior experience will help to ensure that the in-house attorney is capable of managing the pace of work and will be able to act without much support;
  • Business acumen: In-house counsel will need to work within a budget according to the business goals when deciding which legal issues are high priority and disregard those that are low value;
  • Broad legal experience: A general counsel will be required to manage issues that stem from many different areas of law. It may be helpful to look for someone with a wide variety of legal experience;
  • Ability to communicate with employees: A general counsel will need to explain legal issues and their recommendations in lay terms to employees at all levels; and
  • Engineering or science degree: If in-house counsel will be working with patents and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it may be helpful to hire someone who has a technical degree.

Do I Need an Attorney to Hire a General Counsel?

It is not necessary to have the assistance of an attorney to hire a general counsel for your business. However, it may be helpful to consult with a commercial lawyer to assist you in the hiring process.

Your lawyer will be able to advise you what type of experience you should be looking for in potential candidates as well as the duties they may be required to fulfill. Your lawyer can also advise you whether it may be necessary to hire a general counsel or the time frame in which you should be hiring one.

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