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Professor William Willier

Reprinted from The Heights, November 12, 1970
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Prof. William Willier, director of BC Consumer Law Center. Photo by Jeff StickleConsumer Law Clinic seeks to end legal discrimination against poor

Professor William Willier, director of Boston College Law School’s National Consumer Law Center, stated last week that his office “spends most of our time trying to change the law, which is now pretty much against the consumer and especially the poor consumer.”

The group is funded by grants from the Poverty Program’s Office of Economic Opportunity, which funds five similar centers across the country. All of the six centers back up the Legal Services program, each from a specific aspect of the law. (Legal Services is a government program consisting of 2000 salaried lawyers working without fees for the poor.)

“Our assistance to these attorneys is given in the form of research into existing laws, as well as testifying before legislative bodies in an attempt to get laws changed. I view the problem in terms of levels of operation.” Professor Willier went on, “In terms of a hierarchy, the Legal Services lawyer in the court room deals at the lowest level. He is so busy dealing with the problems of his many clients, he can’t go down to the legislature to get the law changed . . . this is our job. We work at a higher level to change the laws so that his client isn’t in court in the first place.”

[The center] is in constant communication with Legal Services lawyers throughout the country who are seeking aid in some area of consumer law. Questions come relating to laws concerning warranties, fraudulent practices, loans, collection suits, repossession of goods, utilities, advertising practices and credit procedures. Since its formation, the center has been engaged in many heated law battles, and was recently referred to as a “bunch of respectable radicals.”

by a Jordan Marsh credit manager. In regard to poor peoples’ access to credit, Professor Willier said, “We have arrived at the premise that credit is a matter of right and not a matter of privilege.” BC law student Paul Gitlin, who is Prof. Willier’s assistant, explained what the center is doing to help consumers in the area of credit. “We are attempting to change the criteria by which banks give credit, because we feel that in most cases these criteria are irrelevant. Banks, for instance, had previously considered single females under 26, and young people in general as the worst credit risks. Recent research has proven, however, that people between the ages of 25-37 are, in fact, the worst risks. We have recently had some success in getting one Boston bank to initiate an experimental program in which credit will be extended to some individuals who would normally be considered ineligible. We are also trying to change banks’ traditional outlook toward extending credit to welfare recipients. We are attempting to show that $80 a week is as good a monetary base for granting credit as many others.”

Gitlin came to the center last year as part of a seminar sponsored by BC’s law school. The ten law students involved got clinical experience by working on a research of action project connected with the centers’ consumer activities. The student’s projects ranged from rewriting chapters doing research for Legal Services lawyers, to participating in actual field work.

Willier commented, “We would not have achieved a fourth of what we did without the work of the students. I feel that the seminar has been extremely successful.” Willier estimated that BC is one of about 12 law schools across the nation that teach any sort of consumer law course. The National Consumer Law, which the center drafted after consulting a large number of consumer groups, is in Willier’s opinion one of the organization’s finest achievements. Its importance was recently testified to by a statement made at a meeting of the Credit Unions Executive Session. At that time one member announced, “No longer can you consider any consumer statute without considering the National Consumer Act as a model against which to test it.”

The center has so far distributed 4000 copies of the law, and Professor Willier believes that it is presently being considered in over half the state legislatures of the country. “I’m proud to say,” the professor concluded, “that in January it will be introduced in congress by Congressman Robert Drinan.”

Prof. William Willier, director of BC Consumer Law Center. Photo by Jeff Stickle

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