Cordray Headlines Legal Forum’s Consumer Protection Symposium

Meredith Heagney
Law School Office of Communications
December 13, 2012

Richard Cordray, ‘86, the Director of the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a longtime government servant, headlined the University of Chicago Legal Forum’s annual symposium, which this year focused on “Frontiers of Consumer Protection.”

Cordray spoke with passion about his mission to protect consumers attempting to navigate the financial markets with products such as credit cards, mortgages, and student loans, and the need for his office to regulate firms and educate citizens.

He also congratulated the Legal Forum, a student journal which publishes annually, on how far they’ve come. When he was a law student, the Legal Forum was newly created (in 1985), he said.  

“To see it, (more than) 25 years later, doing such great work still, is a good feeling for me,” he said.

Cordray was the keynote speaker of the Nov. 2 symposium, which also featured three panels populated with academics and lawyers from across the country. The panels focused on online privacy, federalization of consumer protection, and product recalls. The academics’ work will appear in the next issue of the Legal Forum, “Volume 2013: Frontiers of Consumer Protection,” which will be out next fall.

Bringing Cordray in was very exciting for the Legal Forum Editorial Board, said Graham Hennessey, ’13, Managing Editor.

“It was a very big deal,” he said, immediately after Cordray finished speaking. “He was our first choice from the very beginning.”

Cordray’s mix of state and now federal experience made him the perfect keynote for the topic of consumer protection because it is an area of law affected both by federal regulations and state-based regimes, Hennessey added. Cordray focused on consumer protection in the banking and mortgage industries as Ohio Attorney General. Before that, he served as the state Treasurer and the Franklin County Treasurer.

Since January, he has led the first federal agency with the sole purpose of protecting consumers in the financial market. The bureau supervises banks, credit unions, and other financial companies and enforces federal consumer financial laws.

“The financial marketplace can be difficult, complicated, and perilious for our fellow citizens,” Cordray said. “If you treat people unfairly, we will take their side and seek to make this right.” He feels a special responsibility to low- and middle-income Americans, he said, who often are the most budget-conscious people who could use the most help.

Part of his job, he said, is to make sure the financial meltdown does not repeat itself because people are given access to credit lines they cannot sustain. In addition to cracking down on lenders, Cordray also feels a strong need for more financial education for Americans. He decried our tendency, as a nation, to neglect to educate our young people in personal finance. That’s why, in Ohio, he led a successful effort to require personal finance education in high schools.

“Ultimately, we need to persuade this country that this is something we need to insist on,” he said.

Cordray answered audience questions, including one about the Senate block of his nomination by President Barack Obama. Ultimately, Obama appointed him during a Congressional recess. It was well-known that Senate Republicans blocking Cordray thought he was personally very capable but wanted changes to the new agency.

Cordray said some legislators told him, “‘This is not about you personally…it’s just that we don’t think anybody should be head of this bureau because we don’t believe this bureau should exist.’”

Now that it does, Cordray added, he’s intent to work as hard as possible on behalf of everyday consumers.