UVA Law Adds New Clinic Focused on Consumer Advocacy
The University of Virginia School of Law will offer a new clinic starting this fall that will give students practical experience representing clients with consumer problems, such as legal action by debt collectors.
The yearlong Consumer Law Clinic will educate students about consumer protection statutes, while offering practical experience in client interaction, the investigation of complaints, brief-writing, discovery and, for students with third-year practice licenses, courtroom advocacy in Charlottesville General District Court. The course will be led by longtime consumer law practitioner Ed Wayland, in conjunction with attorneys affiliated with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville.
"The issues of consumer law are the kinds of legal issues that affect ordinary, normal people in their daily lives," Wayland said. "It's not esoteric, high-level business stuff — although large businesses are often involved on the other side."
Wayland said cases will originate from Legal Aid. One common type of case is a client sued for debt collection for an amount he or she doesn't owe. That's because banks sell their old debt to collection services in bulk, but only provide collectors "skimpy" information on the accounts, he said.
"The collector often doesn't have the ability to itemize the amount being claimed, or to justify it," Wayland said. "Nevertheless, they file lawsuits by the hundreds, if not thousands. Often against the wrong person, often for the wrong amount."
Wayland said indebted consumers typically don't have the know-how or resources to contest false claims, but he said such cases have their upside.
"If you go to court against a lot of these people, they drop it, because they are not able to prove their case," Wayland said.
The clinic will include a seminar component in the fall. Students will meet once a week with Wayland and Legal Aid attorneys Angela Ciolfi, Kim Rolla and Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, who will also serve as their advisers on the cases.
"Law students will be helping Central Virginia consumers while developing their own understanding of the growing body of consumer protection laws," Balnave said. "In addition, students will have opportunities to negotiate or litigate on behalf of individual clients and participate in the administrative agency process concerning broader policy issues."