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On the job in consumer law
Meredith Cridland studies Economics/Law at Macquarie University, Masters of Law at the University of Georgia USA and is now senior consumer rights advisor at CHOICE.
Where did you study?
I did a combined Economics/Law degree at Macquarie University and a Masters of Law degree at the University of Georgia USA.
What attracted you to that field of study?
When I enrolled in uni I wasn’t sure of the direction I would take, and I thought Economics/Law would give me flexibility. I majored in accounting in my economics degree, but as my studies progressed I found I was more interested in competition and consumer law and intellectual property. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to study in the USA and I focused on Antitrust, competition and patent law in my Masters degree.
What is your professional background?
While I was still at uni I worked as a summer clerk at a medium-sized commercial law firm, continued there part time for the remainder of my studies, and was then employed as a graduate. I had plenty of experience in banking litigation, transport and intellectual property, before settling into commercial litigation. After 10 years I changed firms and worked in professional indemnity litigation, acting for LawCover. After 5 years I took a break from law and started my own business importing wallpaper and homewares from a Danish company.
Can you describe your path to a career in consumer advocacy?
While running my own business was fun, I missed using my legal brain. So when I spotted a job at CHOICE as consumer rights advisor, it seemed perfect – I could combine my interest in issues raised on ABC’s The Checkout with my legal background and business owner’s perspective. I was employed to set up the CHOICE Help service, which is a phone and email help service for CHOICE members.
What is your current role?
I am the senior consumer rights advisor at CHOICE. I started in November 2013.
What is your employer’s goal?
CHOICE is Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group. It is independent and member-funded and provides Australians with information and advice, free from commercial bias. CHOICE’s values are Truth, Help and Impact.
What does your job involve?
My job involves taking calls and emails from members about their consumer related problems, and writing articles for the CHOICE website and magazine. I encourage self help by providing information about consumer rights and suggestions on approaches to take with businesses. I also occasionally contact businesses on behalf of members to see if I can get a better outcome. I refer really bad examples to CHOICE’s investigations or campaigns teams.
Have you worked on any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve had some interesting issues arise. One was a pet insurer which was still charging premiums for dead pets. We were able to convince them to change their practices. Dodgy ticket resellers is a current issue. I heard about a few members who were being charged enormous additional fees for their tickets, and then in some cases found that the tickets were invalid. CHOICE has since investigated and has referred the resellers to the ACCC and is conducting a campaign with international partners to gather more information about the problems consumers are facing.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
Sometimes I just can’t help and that is frustrating. I find that there are plenty of businesses that don’t understand their obligations to consumers. I can’t make businesses do the right thing - I can encourage them to do so, but that doesn’t always work.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role?
It’s great when I get a refund or a replacement product for a member. Especially a car. That hasn’t happened very often.
What are the limitations of your role?
I have time and resource limitations and so I can’t help everyone or spend as much time on each case as I would like.
Which personal qualities are required for success in your position?
I am really passionate about getting information out to consumers so they can understand and fight for their rights. So negotiation skills are really important, and research skills too.
If you could give three pieces of advice to a current university law student, what would they be?
- Keep your options open. Opportunities exist in areas you may not have considered.
- Do the courses and subjects you enjoy - not just what you think you should do.
- Be pragmatic. Sometimes the best solution to a problem will involve some compromise.