McCoy & Hiestand offers its “The 7th Amendment” scholarship in hopes of encouraging students in all fields to think critically about the role that a jury plays in the civil jury process. The firm wants its students to engage with the concept of a jury trial and ask themselves: is the literal enactment of the 7th Amendment still reasonable?
This year, Madilyn Abbe, a new UC Berkeley School of Law student, presented a thoroughly researched essay on the way that time has impacted a literal interpretation of the 7th Amendment. She uses a three-prong approach to emphasize the Amendment’s value while criticizing the way it no longer addresses the general public’s needs.
McCoy & Hiestand applauds Abbe on her comprehensive research and proudly stands to help her pursue her academic ambitions.
Looking at the 7th Amendment
According to the 7th Amendment:
“In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, then according to the rules of the common law.”
In other words, all US citizens contending with an economic loss exceeding the value of $20 have the right to bring a liable party in front of a juried trial. Parties who opt to engage with the trial process put their right to fair accident compensation into the hands of a jury of their peers.
The US ratified the 7th Amendment in December 1791. Now, over 200 years later, McCoy & Hiestand wants students to question whether or not the original wording of the Amendment holds up to modern-day needs.
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Abbe’s Three-Prong Approach
Abbe came to her assessment of the 7th Amendment courtesy of a clause she found in a company’s subcontracting template, which waived both clients’ and the firm’s right to a jury trial. She pursued her employer with questions and discovered that the company wanted to avoid jury trials due to their cost.
The problem of cost serves as Abbe’s jumping-off point for the rest of her criticism of the 7th Amendment. She notes that the cost of jury trials rapidly outstrips that of mediation, arbitration, and bench trials. Her essay also goes into detail about the way public opinion has turned on jury trials, considering these trials to be unnecessarily lengthy.
Inflation and the $20 Standard
It’s Abbe’s conversation about the 7th Amendment and inflation, though, that serves as particularly striking. Abbe notes that the 7th Amendment allows citizens to recover damages so long as the losses in their accidents have a value of more than $20. She then elaborates on the way that the value of $20 has changed since 1791 with help from the Official Data Foundation.
The Official Data Foundation’s inflation calculator estimates that 1791’s $20 equates to 2023’s $647.08. Abbe emphasizes that neither the $20 in the stated Amendment nor its estimated alternative represent enough damages to cover most parties’ legal fees, let alone the cost of a long-term recovery.
In including this conversation about inflation, Abbe emphasizes that while the heart of the 7th Amendment is sound, it is, in her belief, no longer up-to-date or generous in the support that it allows civil prosecutors to pursue. Ergo, she argues, it’s not economically sound for civil prosecutors to interpret the 7th Amendment literally.
Abbe’s Impressive Legal Background
Before she applied to UC Berkeley School of Law, Abbe graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in English. Today, she’s a 1L, tackling the basics of law school while preparing for internships to come.
Abbe uses her free time to volunteer with the Contra Costa Reentry Program, which oversees post-conviction relief efforts. She additionally works with the Contra Costa Office of the Public Defender, wherein she helps screen clients for relief eligibility.
This isn’t Abbe’s first foray into legal work, though. She used to volunteer with The No More a Stranger Foundation, specializing in pro bono immigration cases.
Her work translating Spanish documents, overseeing client intake, and managing immigration paperwork set her up for a future internship with a government subcontracting firm. That internship subsequently led her to McCoy & Hiestand’s “The 7th Amendment Scholarship.”
What to Expect From Abbe’s Future
Abbe has not yet picked a specialization to pursue once she graduates from law school. She hopes to strike a balance between her passion for immigration law and public defense.
Applying for McCoy & Hiestand’s “The 7th Amendment” Scholarship
Students applying for McCoy & Hiestand’s “The 7th Amendment” Scholarship must complete a 500 to 1,000-word essay, unaided by AI, addressing the question of whether or not the 7th Amendment may withstand a literal interpretation. Students must also submit proof that they have a 3.0 GPA or higher and that they’ve been accepted into an accredited US university.
McCoy & Hiestand will not accept applications submitted without all of their essential materials or past the final filing deadline. The scholarship selection committee requests that students do not reach out to the firm for updates on their scholarship application or with questions about the application process.
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McCoy & Hiestand Encourage Future Applicants to Follow in Abbe’s Footsteps
Madilyn Abbe’s concise and well-researched essay on the literalization of the 7th Amendment stood out in this year’s crowd of “The 7th Amendment” scholarship applicants. McCoy & Hiestand congratulates her on her sharp mind and proudly offers her $2,500 in financial support ahead of her 1L year.
The firm looks forward to hearing about Abbe’s future successes at UC Berkeley School of Law and in her chosen field of practice.
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