Chicago-Kent College of Law Student Zoe Appler Wins “Top Gun” National Trial Advocacy Competition

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Zoe Appler brings home the law school’s first title in the invitation-only tournament that features the nation’s top trial advocacy schools


CHICAGO, June 15, 2021—Chicago-Kent College of Law student Zoe Appler ’22 has won the 2021 Top Gun National Mock Trial Competition, which features the best trial advocates in the country. It is the first time a Chicago-Kent student has won the title.

Appler defeated trial advocates from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Harvard Law School, the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law; Georgetown University Law Center; and Wake Forest University School of Law to capture the championship.

Zoe Appler '22
Zoe Appler '22

“This is an incredible accomplishment. Zoe met the best and defeated them, once again showing how tremendous our students are,” says Chicago-Kent Dean Anita K. Krug.

The annual invitation-only tournament, hosted and organized by Baylor Law School, includes competitors from the top 16 trial advocacy schools in the country. The competition is unique because all advocates try their cases solo with no second chairs to help. Competitors only have 24 hours before the opening rounds to review an entire case file which includes reviewing depositions, records, and  photographs, and developing a theory of the case. Some aspects of the case file also change through each day of competition, and competitors are assigned witnesses for each round. The trial advocates are allowed one teammate as backup to help prepare written arguments; Valerie Letko ’21 served in that role for Appler.

“It was an honor to compete against so many experienced, well-rounded advocates in every round, but the final round was definitely the most special to me,” says Appler, who faced off against her former undergraduate mock trial captain to win the championship. “I could not have made it through this tournament without the support of my resilient co-counsel, Val Letko, and my biggest cheerleader, Judge David Erickson. I am honored to have represented Chicago-Kent on the national stage.”

Most “Top Gun” competitors are recent law school graduates, so it’s notable that Appler, who just completed her second year at Chicago-Kent, went up against seasoned trial advocacy veterans.

“She is, in my opinion, one of the top five talented students I have had in 38 years of teaching and practice,” says Chicago-Kent’s director of trial advocacy David Erickson. “She works not until she’s got it, but until it’s perfect.”

Appler grew up in Buffalo, New York, and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from American University. She is currently a summer associate at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP.

Chicago-Kent’s trial advocacy teams have won numerous individual student honors, and regional and national competitions. In the most recent U.S. News & World Report graduate school rankings, Chicago-Kent’s Trial Advocacy Program is ranked fourth in the country. During the most recent competition season, the law school’s trial advocacy teams finished as national semifinalists in the 2021 National Ethics Trial Competition, national semifinalists in the 2020 All Star Bracket Challenge, reached the semifinal round of the 2020 National Pretrial Competition, and advanced to the National Trial Competition.