Ted Mermin on Berkeley Law’s Thriving Consumer Law Offerings

Links to Berkeley Law Voices Carry podcast episode

In this episode, host Gwyneth Shaw talks with Ted Mermin ’96, a Berkeley Law alum, a lecturer at the law school, and the executive director of our Center for Consumer Law & Economic Justice, which since its 2018 founding has become a hub for faculty, students, and advocates focused on economic security and consumer protection — not just at Berkeley but around the country and even the world. Ted has built his career on public advocacy, particularly in the area of consumer protection, and is a well-known face in the halls of California’s Capitol. 

Ted teaches a variety of consumer law courses and advises both the student-led economic justice organization Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society (CAPS) and the consumer-policy focused Consumer Protection Public Policy Order (C-3PO), one of 40 Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects (SLPS) at the law school. He has also guided the Center’s litigation work, filing amicus briefs in consumer protection, public health, and economic justice cases around the nation as well as overseeing the unique Published Justice project, which has led to the publication of numerous California court of appeal decisions that would not otherwise have seen the light of day.

Ted co-founded and co-convenes an irrational number of conferences, including the Consumer Law Scholars Conference, the Economic Justice Policy Advocates Conference, and the Law School Consumer Clinics Conference, along with first-of-their-kind summits on the application of consumer protection law to the criminal legal system, in the domestic violence context, and in efforts to address climate change. He also co-created and has co-led the Consumer Law Advocates, Students and Scholars (CLASS) Network, which is building a web of consumer law-oriented programs at law schools around the nation. 


“Berkeley Law Voices Carry” is a podcast hosted by Gwyneth Shaw about how the school’s faculty, students, and staff are making an impact — in California, across the country, and around the world — through pathbreaking scholarship, hands-on legal training, and advocacy. 


Production by Yellow Armadillo Studios.

Episode Transcript

GWYNETH SHAW: Hi, listeners. I’m Gwyneth Shaw, and this is Berkeley Law, Voices Carry, a podcast about how our faculty, students, and staff are making an impact through pathbreaking scholarship, hands on legal training, and advocacy. In this episode, I’m joined by Ted Mermin, a Berkeley Law alum, a lecturer at the law school, and the Executive Director of our Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice, which since its 2018 founding has become a hub for faculty, students, and advocates focused on economic security and opportunity. Not just at Berkeley, but around the country and even the world.

Ted has built his career on public advocacy, particularly in the area of consumer protection, and is a well known face in the halls of California’s capital. He teaches a variety of consumer law courses and advises both the student economic justice organization called CAPS and the consumer policy focused C3PO, which is another student led group.

He’s also guided the center’s litigation work filing amicus briefs in consumer protection, public health, and economic justice cases around the nation, as well as overseeing the unique Published Justice Project, which has led to the publication of numerous California Court of Appeal decisions that would not otherwise have seen the light of day.

Ted has co-founded and co-convenes an absurd number of conferences, including the consumer law scholars conference, the Economic Justice Policy Advocates Conference, the Law School Consumer Clinics Conference, along with first of their kind summits on the application of consumer protection law in the criminal legal system in the domestic violence context and in efforts to address climate change.

He has also helped create and build the Consumer Law Advocates Students and Scholars network, known as CLASS, which is building a web of consumer law oriented programs at law schools around the nation. Thanks so much for joining me, Ted.

TED MERMIN: It’s good to be here.

GWYNETH SHAW: Let’s back up a bit. How did the center get started and how have these other strands involving students and consumer law scholars developed as a result?

TED MERMIN: Well, if this is a Berkeley Law Podcast, we really need to take it back to 2007 when I had a conversation with then associate dean who asked me, since I knew something about consumer protection, if I could address the Thai Supreme Court, which was coming to Berkeley Law for some training that summer.

And I responded after a beat, how about a whole course in consumer protection law? I was working then at the California Attorney general’s office in the consumer law section, and there had been no consumer law course when I was a student at Berkeley law. And I thought it would be a good thing to have at the law school. Fast forward a year, and Berkeley Law has its first consumer protection law course, 2008 in the fall. There were some events going on in the world at that time.


TED MERMIN: A certain financial crisis was well under way. And there was a real interest in the field. There was a particular interest in mortgages and foreclosures, and we soon had a second consumer law course at the law school on mortgages and home ownership. That second year, we had a student led group, CAPS, the Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society form. We had an alumni group form.

The guest of Honor at our first meeting of that group was one not very well known consumer law professor by the name of Katie Porter, who was visiting the law school that year. And the consumer law program at the law school continued to grow over the course of the next number of years– adding courses, adding interest groups, starting a consumer Justice Clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center. And as those things all came together, we thought it would be a good idea if the law school could bring those and a number of other activities that were going on in the Bay Area under a single roof.

I was talking to a fellow alum by the name of Elizabeth Cabraser, and asking her where she thought we might go to start seeking support for this effort. And Elizabeth said, would it help [LAUGHS] if I provided the initial funding for this? And I said, yes, one of the better answers I have given, and that was, I suppose, December of 2017. We were sitting at Strada because the law school was closed for the vacation break. And that coming spring, we started to put things together. The center launched officially in 2018. So we had our fifth anniversary celebration this past September. It was a riotous affair, and a lot has happened since then.

GWYNETH SHAW: Really, it’s extraordinary given that period of time. But also, as you mentioned, given the 2008 economic crisis, kind of perfectly timed. I mean, is that crisis– and the fallout from that both legislatively and economically, is that one of the reasons why you think consumer law is appealing to students now or do you think that that would have happened organically without that crisis?

TED MERMIN: That’s a very good question. We’ve had quite an economic crisis as well as a public health crisis since. So it may be that there were other things that would cause people to think that economic justice was worth their attention, but it is very true that as a result of the financial crisis, not only were students, was everybody, forced to turn their attention to holes in the consumer protection safety net, but also, there are other institutions and activities that came into being as a result.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau exists as a result of that crisis. That is a place that law students at Berkeley can go to work for the summer or join the honors program or lateral over. The Federal Trade Commission was similarly reinvigorated, I think, in 2009 or so. And we have seen a lot of interest among students in the field.

I will say this, there are many students nowadays who have no real recollection of the mortgage crisis, of the foreclosure crisis, and for whom it is a distant memory if even that. And then there are those whose families were directly impacted, who had their families face foreclosure. Those students know exactly what happened. And there are students at the law school now who are particularly interested in the field because of what they went through as kids.

GWYNETH SHAW: You mentioned the COVID pandemic too. And of course, I know there were students involved in some of the organizations you work with at the law school and also the center itself involved in a bunch of different things during and after the pandemic. How did that add another layer of concern for people who are interested in consumer and economic justice?

TED MERMIN: We saw an awful lot of what we had previously been handling as more of an academic matter or more of a theoretical matter suddenly hit the ground. It suddenly became practical. The most direct or perhaps the most illuminating story for me was the response of Berkeley Law students in the spring of 2020.

They heard and we worked together to respond to scams that were going on all over the place regarding health care, supplies, various sorts of products that people were hoping to get a hold of that– price gouging was going on. There were phishing scams and simply false advertising going on all over the internet.

And these students hopped on [LAUGHS] in a scam hunter program that they put together run through CAPS, and really tracked down various scammers who were operating online, found those ads, collected the evidence, and gathered it and sent it to the civil law enforcement– the Federal Trade Commission, the California Attorney general’s office, and there were warning letters sent, at least, as a result of the work that students did.

So I saw that as a coming together of some of the best things you see at Berkeley Law. And that is students who really care about looking out for one another and looking out for the society that they are a part of, and who have the wherewithal and the belief that they can do something about it and went ahead and did it. So that’s one example, at least, of the sorts of things that have happened as a result of the birth of the center.

The fact that we now have someone full time, more than one person, on campus working in this field, and students, of course, are leading the way, as they always have. And making the most of the opportunity to take on something that affects everybody. I mean, you have President Kennedy in 1962 saying that consumers by definition include all of us. At the same time, that economic justice adds a layer because there are folks in the society who are much more vulnerable, much more in need of vigilance and the safeguards that consumer protection law can provide. And I think that appeals to students.

GWYNETH SHAW: And of course, talk about this frequently, the energy and the passion and the ingenuity of Berkeley Law students just never ceases to amaze me. It’s always incredible to watch what they can do once they get an idea. I want to talk a little bit about the faculty as well because in the time that the center has been alive, there’s become this consumer law group almost among the faculty.

And I remember speaking with Professor Prasad Krishnamurthy last summer and him talking about how his work has pivoted more towards a consumer law orientation. And he said, I didn’t know I was a consumer law scholar until I started working with Ted. Can you talk a little bit about that, just working with some of our faculty members who have an interest in this, being able to build out those courses. I know that more consumer law oriented courses than ever before at the law school. How has that come about and how rewarding is that for you because you’re spreading you know you’re spreading that interest to a wider range of people?

TED MERMIN: That’s a great question, and that really goes to the heart of what it is that we’re doing. It has been an honor to work with the faculty at Berkeley Law. There are six folks on the faculty who have lent their shoulders to the effort to highlight economic justice, the issues of consumer law, both in the Academy and in the nation as a whole.

And they include Prasad. Prasad Krishnamoorthi and I met really working on legislation with our sister organization, the California Low Income Consumer Coalition, or CLICC. Prasad, it turns out, is a master of debt collection and ideas for improving debt collection regulation. Because he has a PhD in economics, as well as a JD, he has the ear of legislators on both sides of the aisle in Sacramento, and we have had the pleasure of working together [LAUGHS] on quite a number of Bills, on the development of policy, on events.

And he has, I think, also inspired his colleagues to look at the potential influence that they can have on the world and on the promotion of economic justice in addition to doing outstanding scholarship. So Abhay Aneja has also joined the effort, and he and I taught the consumer law and economic justice workshop last spring. That was a class conceived by Abby Atkinson who joined us just before the center started, [LAUGHS] and who has been an invaluable contribution to the law school teaching classes in debt discrimination and inequality, writing articles that are cited all over the country and all over the law school.

Abby’s general article on credit as social provision– that is the idea that you don’t really help low income people by giving them credit if they can’t afford to pay it back. That article remains the most cited article in my own consumer protection law class, by students who are doing their own research.

We’ve had Jonathan Glaser join us, specialist in the field of student lending and higher Ed in– as well as so many other kinds of things. And he’s been our faculty director since he arrived. Manisha Padi joined the Law School a few years ago. She is another of– the triumvirate of economics PhDs and JDs with, again, a real commitment to seeing how their expertise can be brought to bear to illuminate inequality and to do something about it.

And then there’s Chris Hoofnagle from an entirely different side of consumer protection law who just happens to be one of the world’s leading experts on consumer privacy, as well as data security, as well as– you name it, new technologies. And you get that kind of sextet, a hexagon of experts, and good things are going to be happening.

You mentioned the number of classes that we offer. That’s something that I will say the center is proud of. As we have worked with students and with practitioners and with regulators over the years, the need for various types of courses has become clear. And we have turned to friends and alums of the law school to teach classes that meet the interests of students, that meet the needs of the marketplace, and that meet the, I think, perceived need to work toward economic justice.

And those classes include housing litigation and policy with alum Michael Bracamontes, credit reporting and economic justice with Erika Heath. We have a public health law course with alum Marise Ashe. We have a class called consumer litigation, the course of a case, with alum Kristen Law Saghafi, and the newest addition this past year, a class called suing corporations taught by Adelina Acuña.

These are courses that students have signed up for in great numbers to go along with folks like Suzanne Martindale, another alum who’s been teaching a student loan law class for years. And it’s quite a coming together of practitioners, alums, current students to offer a panoply of courses that is unmatched, as I say, in California. We will have with a course in legislative advocacy for economic justice D1 consumer law courses at the law school in the course of a two year cycle.

That is more than any other law school in California. It is more than any other law school in the United States. And it is more than any other law school in the world. We have confirmed that. [LAUGHS] And I think that it makes Berkeley Law a particularly special place in this field. And that’s been tremendously exciting.

GWYNETH SHAW: Yeah, that’s just extraordinary and leads me to my next question. In addition to all these courses and everything we’ve already talked about, the law school recently hosted the sixth annual consumer law scholars conference. Again, getting back to that idea of spreading this field and growing this field not just at Berkeley Law and in California but in a much broader way, how important is it from your perspective that Berkeley Law is really leading in this area? Not just for sort of attracting students or attracting faculty, but just the greater cause of economic justice and advocating for consumers in a much broader and more systemic way.

TED MERMIN: It’s very important.


TED MERMIN: Well, obviously, I believe that. I think it’s recognized as important. When Lina Khan, Chair of the Federal Trade Commission, goes on a whistle stop tour around the country, she will make sure, as she did, to come to Berkeley Law. When the person who leads the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC does the same, he will come. And that is Sam Levine who came this year. We have hosted Kathy Kraninger when she was director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We’ve hosted Rick Cordray in that same position.

I think that folks recognize the importance of Berkeley Law in this field, and that has been enormously gratifying for all of us who are involved in having made that happen. I will say, we also, very early on in the center’s existence, recognized that we could just be the place that people would come for expertise in the field or we could make sure that it was an option, a possibility that was an urgency, that was made available to law students and law faculty, law schools around the country.

And we chose the second option, which was to say, we need to spread the word here. And that is the Genesis of the class network that you mentioned, the Consumer Law Advocates Scholars and Students network, which is a partnership with the National Association of Consumer Advocates. It is a gathering of consumer law programs from all around the country, and it is an opportunity for students to work and do research for nonprofits, for government agencies, for professors who may be located in other parts of the country.

So we have worked with attorney generals offices, and we have worked with various kinds of NGOs who have questions that they need answered. And they know they’re not going to get around to it, but they can ask a group of smart students and committed students from wherever they may be. And we’ve had student teams that included three or four different law schools working on one project, whether it is research or, in some cases, for example, writing a comment in a federal agency’s regulatory proceeding.

That has been enormously exciting as well, because it’s meant that not only are we hosting consumer law scholars from around the country and from around the world, but also we are making sure that students, wherever they maybe, have the opportunity to get involved in the field and to put their own shoulders to the wheel and move the wheel of Justice forward.

GWYNETH SHAW: You’ve spent your career in the public sector, and I know you’ve been involved in all kinds of different ways as the law school pushes to be more supportive and more of a leader in helping students who want to go into the public sector, whether that’s public interest jobs or nonprofit law or plaintiff side litigation or government, all kinds of different things.

And the law school is really trying to support those students so that a student who wants to do that doesn’t feel like they have to choose a particular career just for the sake of money when they first get out of school. What kinds of jobs our students interested in consumer law and economic justice? What kinds of jobs are they getting or kinds of things are they leaning into after they leave law school? Are there some pathways that you’re seeing some of students who’ve come through in the past few years go into?

TED MERMIN: We have a lot going on [LAUGHS] in that field, and have had since before the center was born. Certainly, there are folks who have been working at the Federal Trade Commission. And the California Attorney general’s office will be hiring not just one student into its honors program into its consumer protection law section this coming year, but also five other students [LAUGHS] into that honors program.

So government agencies have been very rich source of job opportunities, career opportunities for graduates. We have had folks lateral in [LAUGHS] as well to finally be able to work on it what it is that they want to be working on. And on that score, I’m glad that you asked this question right now.

We are working on– and when I say we, as a number of current students and a number of alums who either– for the students, they will be starting off in what they call big law, working for defense firms. But they don’t plan to stay there for a particularly long period of time. They know that they will pivot and work elsewhere, and where they’d like to work is in the public sector or in a public interest job.

And they want to know how they might make that happen. How that path can be made more smooth. Well, we have hundreds of alums– [LAUGHS] if not thousands who have made that transition. And they, at least a subset of them, and I think that we will have more and more involved over time, are going to make themselves available as a resource for students who would like to make that transition smoothly.

There’s lots of reasons for folks to start out working for a big law firm, and there’s lots of reasons for them to continue working in a position that aligns with why they went to law school in the first place. And we are working with CDO right now to put together a program that will allow students, even after they graduate, to stay in touch with the law school, to have resources, and to be able to make that transition when they are ready to do so.

So that’s folks who are taking what has been thought of as a circuitous or an unusual path. It’s not an unusual path. [LAUGHS] It’s a very common path, but it’s not one that has been acknowledged officially. And I think that what we’re going to do is to bring it into the light.

There are other students who have gone directly into public interest work or direct service work through fellowships, whether a Skadden fellowship, an GW fellowship, or justice catalyst fellowship, or one of the fellowships that– the Bridge fellowships or Berkeley Law Foundation Fellowship that is offered through the law school, and those make an enormous difference, obviously, to all kinds of students.

What we’re also hoping to do is to start bridging that gap that says, well, you can only go to work for direct services provider if you have a fellowship– if you’re bringing your own money. Well, legal service providers hire people all the time. [LAUGHS]


TED MERMIN: Many of them are in principle willing to hire a law student a graduating 3L. There are some issues with– it would be better for them if this person had already passed the bar or, for that matter, already had their license. But I think that that is a gap we can bridge, and I think that that’s something that is a very important one for us to be focused on.

This is no less true for plaintiff’s firms. A surprising number of folks who end up at plaintiff’s firms have come from the defense side, always wanted to be on the other side of the V, and that’s not something that requires a trip through a defense firm. In recent years, students have decided that they would like to be able to both to do good and to do reasonably well while doing good, and that has really contributed to an upsurge in– even just the last couple of years, in plaintiff’s law as a destination.

There has been a national Plaintiff’s Law Association formed along with the Plaintiff’s Law Association at a number of leading law schools. One of them is Berkeley Law. The Plaintiff’s Law Association here is remarkably robust, and it has held events. It has helped to place students into plaintiff’s firms. We just held the law school’s very first plaintiff’s law firm fair. And so that is another option for students when they think of what it is that they want to do when they graduate from this law school.

And I’ll add that we are also working on broadening the sorts of possibilities, the perspective that students will have when they think about, well, what is it that I might do when I graduate? To include, for example, going to work in policy. Working in Sacramento. Working in DC. Working in wherever policy is being made.

That if they are not inclined to litigate or to do transactional work or, for that matter, to do direct services, there is a large option that many people turn to eventually, but very few people get a taste of in law school, and that is to actually make the laws. Change the laws that lawyers then have to contend with in court. [LAUGHS] So that is another field that is growing, that is dynamic, that is vibrant at the law school, and that is, I think, a law school-wide effort. That is a very exciting one.

GWYNETH SHAW: Yeah. It’s really been interesting to see this change, and it’ll be fun to watch as that continues. I wanted to ask you also about something you mentioned earlier, the Published Justice Project. Can you talk a little bit about that, because that’s a slightly different lane than a lot of the other things we’ve talked about, but I think it’s really interesting and really important, especially for our listeners who might live in California.

TED MERMIN: Listeners may not know that 9/10 of the cases decided by the California Court of Appeal are not published. They’re not citable. They are not precedential. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes it really is just a fairly sketchy decision, [LAUGHS] sketchy in the sense that it doesn’t have– it doesn’t rehash the law because the law is extremely well established. This is not a new set of facts, and so on. And sometimes, it’s just that the court may not realize how significant the decision is.

And in the case of decisions that explicate areas of consumer protection law that really would help trial courts around the state, that would illuminate the law for parties on all sides, those are decisions that we can look at and say, it really would be worthwhile to publish this. And there is a provision in the California Rules of Court for asking an appellate panel to publish its decision, and that’s something that we’ve done over the past number of years that has been, I think, very useful.

We’ve had quite a number of cases published that would not otherwise have seen the light of day in the sense of being a case that can be relied upon. So we are telling courts, your work is really worthwhile here. [LAUGHS] And sometimes they actually agree with us.

GWYNETH SHAW: Yeah. I just I’ve always found that to be such an interesting project because I was one of the people who had no idea that that was the case until I heard about this. You mentioned that the center just celebrated its fifth anniversary last fall. Where do you want to go next aside from continuing all of the things that we’ve already talked about? Are there particular angles you’re looking into or places you want to go in the next five years?

TED MERMIN: One area that we’ve talked about a little bit but that I think bears further discussion is the development of policy. It can be lonely out there [LAUGHS] for a lot of folks who are working, for example on consumer protection on economic justice issues in their own state. And there may not be a lot of other people involved in their efforts, whether it’s in their own state legislatures or state regulatory agencies.

But it turns out that there are lots of people around the country who are working similarly on those issues in those places in their own states. And so one of the things we’ve done with the Economic Justice Policy Advocates Conference is to bring people together who are working on those issues. We will host the first live conference for EJPAC in DC in June, and we are really hoping to build the center’s capacity to support folks who are interested in this area, who are doing work in this area. That’s a real focus of ours.

We’ll actually be hiring a policy director to run those efforts imminently. So if anyone listening [LAUGHS] is interested in joining us and doing the work that we’re doing, please be in touch. The opportunity is there. And that’s, of course, what Berkeley Law is all about.

Is not only working with folks who are around the world and offering guidance, insight, and learning from people around the world, but also bringing folks, including students, visiting professors, and others, to the law school, whether as LLM students, as JD students, as visitors, to share their insight so that we can learn from what others are doing. We can cooperate collaborate and come up with the best answers we can to some of the most pressing questions of our time.

GWYNETH SHAW: Well, looking forward to see what’s coming down the pike, because it’s always lots of interesting things to talk to you about. If you want to know more about the Center and that potential job posting that might be coming down the pike, I will put some information about the center and some of Berkeley Law’s consumer classes and the student groups and everything else into the show notes so our listeners can find out more if they want to.

It’s been great to have you here, Ted. Thanks so much for sitting down with me. And thanks to you, listeners, for tuning in. Be sure to subscribe to Voices Carry wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, I’m Gwyneth Shaw, and thanks again, Ted.

TED MERMIN: Thank you, Gwyneth.