Recognizing the always evolving nature of the consumer and
business relationship, the Massachusetts Bar Association last year
created the Consumer Advocacy Task Force, a group focused on
protecting consumer rights and acknowledging and promoting
consumer-friendly business practices.
Chaired by MBA Vice President Christopher A. Kenney, the group is
composed of several attorneys from a mix of backgrounds. Now
embarking on its second year together, the task force is well
underway with its main objectives.
"The task force's goals are three pronged," said Kenney. "First,
we're creating a clearinghouse of information for consumers
regarding protection issues. We want to empower the consumer, so
they know where to turn when they have a claim - whether it's the
hotline, the state office of consumer protection or the MBA's
Lawyer Referral Service."
Kenney said that the group has been involved in identifying and
creating information, resources, templates and roadmaps to pass
along to consumers who aren't sure where to turn when they have a
claim. Once the clearinghouse is up and running on the MBA's
public-facing www.MassLawHelp.com website, the group will continue
to review it over the years to ensure that the information
distributed remains accurate and current.
Symposium this month
A second effort of the group is to recognize and promote area
businesses that make continuous efforts to maintain positive
relations with their consumers. Part of this effort is to create a
favorable and supportive relationship, rather than interacting with
a business only after a dispute has been initiated.
"This is a proactive step, to use positive reinforcement to
recognize the businesses that benefit consumers," said
One result of this effort is the creation of the MBA Pinnacle
Awards, a new award designed to recognize companies in
Massachusetts, large or small, for positive interactions with and
commitment to their consumers. To receive the honor, companies must
be operating in good standing in Massachusetts and remain proactive
for the benefit of their consumers. The first recipients of the
award - Staples Inc., and Dancing Deer Baking Company - were
announced this fall.
The Pinnacle Awards will be awarded as part of the first-ever
Consumer Advocacy Symposium, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct.
29, at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. Kenney said the
plan is to make the symposium a yearly event and establish the MBA
as a thought leader.
"We're planning to hold an annual symposium to address cutting
edge legal issues around consumer interests, and will feature
nationally recognized speakers," he said.
This year, the symposium topics will center around two major
issues: the role played by the Attorney General's office in
consumer protection advocacy, and the possibility of expanding the
role that private attorneys play in assisting the Attorney General
in consumer protection litigation.
"The Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's office
has been in place for many years, and their work has changed over
time. We want to make people aware of what they do," said task
force member Andrew Rainer, litigation director at the Public
Health Advocacy Institue. For example, Rainer points out that not
all consumers are aware of their ability to call the office and
discuss the possibility of receiving assistance from a
"Some cases can be resolved easily with this kind of intervention,
and we want to make sure everyone knows about this," he said.
Rainer also said the symposium will talk about some of the larger
consumer cases the office has litigated in recent years, including
foreclosure-related and electronic privacy cases.
Another topic scheduled is the possibility of expanding the role
private attorneys play in consumer protection cases brought on in
behalf of the citizens of Massachusetts. A lively panel discussion
is expected to include former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger,
who is now senior counsel at Proskauer Rose LLP; former First
Assistant Attorney General Dean Richlin, now with the firm of Foley
Hoag; Stuart Rossman, litigation director at the National Consumer
Law Center; and Kathleen Engel, professor at Suffolk University Law
"Former Attorney General Harshbarger and attorney Richlin will
offer perspectives on the pros and cons of having private attorneys
represent the state, drawn from the state tobacco litigation
brought several years ago in which the state hired private counsel
and litigated over the fees due to them," Rainer said.
"Attorney Rossman will offer perspectives on the value of
parens patriae litigation in other forums, and Professor
Engel will talk about the viability of parens patriae
litigation brought on behalf of municipalities, a topic she has
been studying," he added.
The members of the Consumer Advocacy Task Force are excited about
their opportunity to inform and positively impact area consumers,
and to raise awareness about the bar's commitment to both consumer
interests and upstanding businesses.
"We're focused on protecting the consumers in the commonwealth,"
said Nadine Cohen, task force member and managing attorney with the
Consumer Rights Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services. "The group
will do a lot to raise the visibility of consumer issues, and make
sure the bar remains up to date on consumer cases and current
Cohen adds that the timing is perfect for such discussions, with
the ongoing Attorney General elections.
"The speakers are very knowledgeable and active in consumer
issues. It's a good time to raise awareness and have these
important discussions," she said.