New Law Review Article Calls for Greater Emphasis on Consumer Law

January 19, 2023

Professor Rory Van Loo of Boston University School of Law has authored a forthcoming article in the Minnesota Law Review calling for greater scholarly emphasis on and recognition of the importance of consumer law as a means of addressing society’s most pressing problems—from climate change to income inequality. In Public Stakes of Consumer Law: The Environment, the Economy, Health, Disinformation, and Beyond, Professor Van Loo issues a challenge:

We are all consumers. Exchanges between consumers and corporations contribute to global warming when people buy energy-inefficient household appliances; drive public health epidemics, like obesity, due to harmful food purchases; and widen wealth gaps, when low-income or minority households are subjected to predatory sales practices. Yet despite these stakes, consumer law has struggled to gain intellectual or popular appeal, in contrast to the explosion in antitrust interest that has resulted from the growing interest in holding large technology companies accountable. Unlike workers, veterans, and businesses, consumers have neither a department at the federal level nor a committee focused on them in either the House or the Senate. Many law schools do not even offer a consumer law course. This Article reveals the risks of consumer law’s invisibility and calls for an institutional and conceptual reconstruction of the field. Consumer law always mattered, but recent shifts in legal institutions, markets, and technologies have further elevated its importance. To reflect that societal importance, and to return the economic analysis to its roots, a public priority principle should serve as consumer law’s analytic lodestone. Legal institutions can also help by shifting from marginalizing the field to featuring it. At a minimum, it is time to recognize that consumer law has a meaningful role to play in the struggles to strengthen democracy, preserve the environment, foster health, and promote prosperity.

Professor Van Loo specifically calls out the work of Berkeley Law’s Center for Consumer Law & Economic Justice:

As a final point of contrast to illustrate how the academic marginalization of consumer law may reflect awareness or intuition rather than demand, Berkeley Law School in recent years has invested in consumer law by launching a center for Consumer and Economic Justice, starting a nationwide network of consumer law student groups at schools ranging from Duke to the University of Utah, and hiring its first and second-ever entry-level tenure-track research faculty in consumer law. Also, for decades there was no annual consumer law scholars conference until Berkeley’s consumer law center launched one in 2019, aligning consumer law with other fields, like environmental law, that have had such meetings for decades. It had eighty-three submissions in 2023, suggesting that when institutions make decisions to highlight consumer law markets can respond.

You can read Professor Van Loo’s article here.