In 1979, Richard Alderman, associate dean at the UH Law Center, decided that law schools should do more than just teach people to be lawyers.
“They should help people learn about how the law can help them in their everyday transactions, so I started the Center for Consumer Law in 1979,” says Alderman. “That is, in essence, what we continue to do today.”
Within the Center for Consumer Law is the Texas Consumer Complaints Center, which is designed to help consumers resolve their problems – and at no cost to the consumers. Under the direction of two attorneys, including the center’s director, David Tiede, one paralegal and a handful of law students work to resolve hundreds of consumer complaints each month, everything from debt collection to automobile repairs to apartment leases.
“We make sure consumers understand where they stand – what they could do, couldn’t do – and make suggestions for people to resolve complaints on their own,” says Alderman.
Law students collect the facts and any relevant documentation, such as a copy of the lease in a landlord-tenant dispute. If the complainant can’t resolve the issue on their own, the center will help them mediate with the other side to reach a resolution.
“To be honest, we have a huge success rate at this point,” says Alderman. “We receive hundreds of complaints a month, and have recovered millions of dollars to consumers.”
But it’s not just the consumers who benefit from the center’s free services. Law students who staff the clinic as a part of their curriculum learn important skills such as effective communication and time management, as well as legal knowledge that they will use in their future careers.
“By the time they finish the course, they learn how to communicate more effectively and how to get the information,” says Alderman. “None of the students work on their own; they talk with the consumers and then immediately talk to one of the attorneys. They learn to mediate, and students get so excited when they come in and say, ‘I just solved this!’”
To learn more about the Texas Consumer Complaints Center, visit http://www.texasccc.com/. To view questions and answers to common legal questions fielded by the Texas Consumers Complaints Center and other resources available to consumers, visit: http://www.peopleslawyer.net/qa/homepage.asp.