Interview with Meirav Furth-Matzkin

ByMeirav Furth-Matzkin

Q: In a few words, please tell us a bit about yourself

A: I am a third-year SJD candidate at Harvard Law School. Prior to my graduate studies at Harvard, I obtained an LL.B./B.A. in Law and International Relations (cum laude) from the HUJI and clerked for the honorable Justice Vogelman at the Israeli Supreme Court. In recent years, I served as a Graduate Research Fellow at the Harvard John M. Olin Center for Law & Economics, the Harvard Program on Negotiation, and the Program on the Foundations of Private Law. I’m also a Pearlman Scholar, a P.E.O International Peace Prize recipient, and a member of Harvard’s Empirical Legal Studies Group (HELS) and the Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) at Harvard Business School.

As a visiting scholar at HCSRC, I am investigating the role that legally-dubious clauses play in IoT consumer contracts. As IoT products—capable of connecting, collecting, sending, and exchanging data—proliferate, they present opportunities for consumers, but also raise serious security risks. My research empirically unravels the prevalence of questionably enforceable clauses like liability waivers and warranty disclaimers in agreements for the purchase of IoT devices, as well as the implications of such contractual terms for consumers and the market.


Q: What is the core of your research?

A: My research is at the crossroads of contract law, psychology, and economics, with a focus on consumer contracts. More specifically, I explore the role that consumer contracts play in shaping the relations between consumers and sellers, and the impact of the law on these exchanges. Using mixed empirical methodologies and insights from the social sciences, I investigate three interrelated questions: (1) how the contract and the law are interpreted and reinterpreted by laypeople; (2) how laypeople’s legal perceptions influence their decisions and behavior; and (3) how sophisticated market players respond to these behavioral patterns, by designing contracts that exploit consumers’ (mis)perceptions of the law.

My doctoral dissertation (supervised by Professors Oren Bar-Gill, Cass R. Sunstein, and Alma Cohen) empirically investigates the ways in which sellers leverage consumers’ ignorance of the law by drafting contracts that explicitly overreach it, thereby misleading consumers as to their legal rights and remedies. My article “On the Unexpected Use of Unenforceable Contract Terms: Evidence from the Residential Rental Market,” published in the Journal of Legal Analysis, reveals that landlords routinely use unenforceable and misleading terms in residential lease agreements. Another ongoing project explores lay psychology in the form of sellers’ fraudulent representations that are subsequently contradicted in the fine print. Through my research, I ultimately seek to advance consumer protection by assisting regulators in developing behaviorally and empirically informed regulation.

My research requires a close and intimate familiarity with interdisciplinary research and writing, as well as diverse quantitative and qualitative methodological skills. In order to build expertise in my research areas and broaden my methodological toolbox, I worked closely with my supervisors and mentors at Harvard. I have also participated in myriad courses at Harvard Law School, the Department of Economics, and the Business School. As a member of the Harvard Empirical Legal Studies Group and Harvard’s Behavioral Insights Group, I contributed to cutting-edge work in empirical and experimental legal studies. Finally, as a Kennedy Traveling Research Fellow, I had the opportunity to refine my methodological skillset by attending an advanced training program in empirical legal methods at the International Max Plank Research School (IMPRS) in Jena, Germany.

Q: Why did you choose this specific subject? Did your professional or personal background lead you in this direction? 

A: Before the beginning of my LL.M year, I had the opportunity to clerk with Justice Uzi Vogelman of the Israeli Supreme Court. One of the cases assigned to me was a suit against an insurance company. The plaintiff had insured her belongings for over twenty years. When her jewelry was stolen, the insurance company denied coverage on the basis that the jewelry was not kept in a safe at the time of the burglary, as required in one of the clauses in the plaintiff’s insurance policy form. The Court unanimously invalidated this clause as unconscionable, and obliged the insurance company to indemnify the plaintiff for her loss. Yet, a year after the holding, the Israeli ministry of treasury reported that insurance companies keep using this provision to deny insureds’ claims.

Reading this report, I was startled by the insurance industry’s exploitation of consumers’ ignorance of the law. Yet as I further delved into the matter, I came to realize that I should not have been so surprised: companies’ deceptive practices are the inherent result of the collision between market incentives and consumers’ psychology. Concerned by the government’s failure to adequately respond to such practices, I sought to devote my studies at HLS to advancing my understanding of the problem and its psychological roots, as well as to devising workable solutions.

Q: What is the next phase in your personal/professional life?

A: After completing my doctoral studies at Harvard, I hope to develop an academic career as legal scholar. In contrast to other academic fields, legal scholarship seeks not only to explore the world we live in, but also to shape and redefine it. Working in academia, I aim to influence the legal system by guiding and advising litigants, judges, and policymakers alike, while also teaching the next generation of lawyers.