Winter 2020

Beauty image of the Law School Reading Room from the side study hall

In Practice

Meegan Brooks, ’13: An Advocate for the Retail Industry

Meegan Brooks headshot
Meegan Brooks, ’13

Throughout law school, Meegan Brooks, ’13, was most interested in cases involving retail brands and other companies that she admired. Brooks joined Sedgwick LLP as a 2L summer associate and became enamored with its retail practice group, which specialized in defending consumer class actions. “I identified their work as being fun and cool and interesting,” she says. 

She emailed the head of Sedgwick’s retail group every month for a year expressing her interest in working for the group after she graduated from law school. Her persistence paid off; she was hired into the retail group as an associate and has been practicing in this area of law ever since. 

Brooks moved with Sedgwick’s retail practice group to Steptoe & Johnson LLP in January 2018—lured in part by its strong roster of privacy and regulatory lawyers. “I have believed for a very long time that privacy will play an important role in every aspect of retail,” Brooks says.

Brooks finds this practice area compelling because most people can so easily relate to it. “Everyone shops, and most of my cases come down to questions about what a reasonable consumer would think. 

Ultimately, I’m a reasonable consumer just like everyone else.” She has been counsel of record in cases against Macy’s, Gucci, Cole Haan, and DSW. “A lot of my clients are brands that I have shopped with for many years. It’s fun not only getting to see what they do behind the scenes, but to actually shape what they do and to help protect them.”

A major focus of Brooks’s work involves defending retailers against class-action lawsuits brought by consumers alleging that the retailers used false advertising. She has helped defend at least 40 of these cases in her five years of practice. A third of Brooks’s work is advising retailers on how to avoid lawsuits and comply with laws in a way that doesn’t compromise their business objectives. 

In addition to advertising, she helps a wide range of retail companies—from fashion retailers to big-box stores to startups—comply with consumer-facing issues, including privacy and automatic renewal laws.

One of Brooks’s most active practice areas has involved price advertising. 

She says that nearly 100 retailers have been sued in the last five years over reference pricing, alleging that retailers advertise inflated original “compare to” or MSRP prices in order to trick consumers into making a purchase. She finds the psychology of this situation to be straightforward yet nuanced. Each case comes down to the question: Would a reasonable consumer be deceived under the circumstances?

Brooks has become a student of the industry, subscribing to trade publications and attending events about the future of retail. “I am constantly thinking about how retail as an industry is changing,” she says. At one such event a few years ago, she heard a speaker predict that the future of retail would involve having a retailer know when your sneakers are worn out and automatically deliver you a new pair. 

“So much of retail is getting more automated and personalized,” Brooks notes. These changes, however, bring new legal issues, which keep her job interesting. For example, Brooks has defended numerous startups in suits brought under California’s Automatic Renewal Law, alleging that the retailers charged customers’ cards on a recurring basis without consent. Brooks and her team have been successful in these cases, sometimes even convincing plaintiffs’ attorneys to voluntarily drop their case after explaining why their case was weak.

The majority of Brooks’s cases are brought in California, which has some of the nation’s strictest consumer protection laws. While she says the purpose behind the laws is well-intentioned, she believes that some of them have been manipulated to allow for meritless claims. 

In one case, she defended a candy manufacturer against claims that it deceived consumers by listing “evaporated cane juice” instead of “sugar” as an ingredient even though the nutrition facts listed 17 grams of sugar; the plaintiff ultimately dismissed the case voluntarily. 

Even though these types of cases don’t appear to have merit, Brooks says, “you need to attack them as if they do.”