Thursday, December 16, 2010

The law won't let you escape a bad deal

My first-year torts professor here at U of L Law once told our class that he found it hard to understand how non-lawyers found their way in the world. He was talking about the powers of persuasion that we are learning in law school. Even before I started taking classes here at Brandeis, I prided myself on being able to argue my way through problems -- you know, phone bills, traffic tickets, that sort of thing. Now, after reading hundreds of court cases and arguing about a lot of them in class, I've gotten much better at it. Just in the last week, for example, I sweet-talked my way into a discount on my property taxes that was worth more than $100. As I wade deeper into law school, I also am becoming more attuned to bad consumer deals. Take, for example, the above photo that I took in Louisville's West End earlier this week of a billboard promoting non-recourse settlement loans for car-wreck victims. These offers, sadly, are very common among low-income litigants. They're basically the equivalent of a cash advance on the proceeds of your recovery, with the plaintiff paying an exhorbitant fee in exchange for an upfront payment. 
But if you think that my hubris knows no bounds, you would be wrong. Case in point: I'm standing at the front counter of a private college bookstore near campus yesterday afternoon, trying to waggle out of a rental agreement that charged me seventy-some dollars for a Constitutional Law textbook that I needed for an entire year, but which was only mine for a single semester under the terms of the rental contract. Why, oh why, I asked the manager, would you rent a book to a student for a semester when the class spans an entire year? We hemmed and hawed over this point, but in the end I could not escape the manager's point: it's not her job to figure out how long I need my books. And that, unfortunately, is my tough lesson for the week. No matter how crafty or clever you are (or think you are), the law doesn't always allow you to escape a bad bargain. 

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