Graduate Profile: Zachary Kelsay, L’21

Moot court, mock trial shaped student’s KU Law experience

Zachary Kelsay
Third-year law student Zachary Kelsay

Zachary Kelsay, L’21, has been practicing advocacy skills in mock trial competitions since his undergraduate days. When moot court and mock trial contests moved online this year, Kelsay took on the new challenge.

“It was fun to learn a new way to litigate because none of the books on litigation provided guidance on how to advocate digitally,” he said.

Kelsay and first-year law student Emily Depew won the top prize at the 2021 National Native American Law Students Competition. In 2020, Kelsay and teammate Karen Fritts, L’21, won the first-place award for Best Overall Advocates and placed in the top three teams overall at the NNALSA competition. Professor Shawn Watts coached both teams.

“Karen and Emily are exceptionally skilled advocates, and it was exciting to work with both of them,” Kelsay said. “I learned a lot about the law while writing briefs and preparing for oral arguments. It made me confident that advocacy is the right career path for me.”

Kelsay also competed in the 2020 National All Star Bracket Challenge, a mock trial competition, with coaching from Professor Alice Craig. He was a member of KU Law’s Mock Trial Council and earned the Payne & Jones Award for Outstanding Oral Advocacy in spring 2019.

Learning how to advocate during remote competitions using KU Law’s dedicated Zoom room is Kelsay’s favorite law school memory. He thanked Kris Koenig, IT coordinator, and Crystal Mai, associate dean for administration, for helping competition teams get set up in the virtual space.

“After mock trial and moot court transitioned to an online format, they both worked hard behind the scenes to make our transition seamless,” Kelsay said.

Outside the courtroom – and Zoom room – Kelsay was active in several student organizations at KU Law. He served as a staff articles editor for the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. He also participated in the Student Bar Association, Dean’s Fellows, Black Law Students Association, and the Shook, Hardy & Bacon Scholars Program.

At graduation, Kelsay received the law school’s Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award. The award is given to the graduate who has most distinguished themselves through leadership in the law school.

Originally from Independence, Missouri, Kelsay came to KU Law through the Legal Education Accelerated Degree Program (LEAD). The program allows students to complete an undergraduate degree and a J.D. in six years, instead of seven. Kelsay earned bachelor’s degrees in global and international studies and history from the University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in 2018.

In the classroom, Kelsay said he appreciated Professor Jean Phillips’ Criminal Procedure course, “because she is such a kind person and makes every class exciting.”

“I have a much deeper appreciation for the Fourth Amendment, the Constitution and criminal justice reform after taking her class,” Kelsay said. Dean Stephen Mazza’s course on Federal Income Taxation also made an impact, preparing Kelsay to interpret IRS regulations and help people understand tax law.

After graduation, Kelsay plans to move to Washington, D.C.

“I am excited about using my legal skills to advocate for policy change and support community-level development,” Kelsay said.

— By Margaret Hair

This post is the third in a series highlighting a few of the exceptional members of KU Law’s Class of 2021. Check out previous stories about Aidan Graybill and Howard Mahan. Stay tuned for more profiles as we celebrate this year’s graduating class.

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