The Closer

Former minor league pitcher and recent law alumnus Bobby Bramhall may have left the world of professional baseball behind years ago, but he remains a closer.

By Laura Lacy

Originally published in Tennessee Law, Summer 2017

Or, rather, he’s The Closer after taking the top prize at Baylor Law School’s first-ever transactional law competition in January.

Mere days before the competition, Brian Krumm, University of Tennessee associate professor of law (and competition coach), found himself down one competitor for The Closer competition in Waco, Texas when a student had to pull out. He decided to call in Bramhall, thinking the Texas native would jump at the chance to compete in his home state. And even though Bramhall had just driven from Texas back to Tennessee after the winter break, he hopped the plane returning to the Lone Star State.

“I got home on Monday after, you know, a 17-hour drive,” Bramhall recalled, with a laugh. “And Tuesday morning, Professor Krumm called me and asked if I wanted to go to Texas. I said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me, I just was 89 miles from Waco!’” But recognizing a great opportunity, he readily agreed.

Once there, Bramhall—along with seven other contestants chosen from law schools that, like the University of Tennessee College of Law, were invited to participate based on past excellence in Transactional LawMeets events—dove headfirst into a hypothetical negotiation in order to showcase his deal-making chops.

The history of the partnership deal was dropped in Bramhall’s lap, and within the span of 24 hours, he would digest the information, tour the facility and work with Krumm to strategize for his client.

Baylor set up a mock scenario in which Balcones Distilling, an actual award-winning whiskey distillery in Waco, was exploring a partnership with Premier Service Corporation, a fictitious company interested in taking over the management of the distillery’s gift shop and hospitality needs. Half of the competitors were assigned to each side.

Negotiating on behalf of Balcones, Bramhall was stepping in to replace the distillery’s fictional lawyer, unable to work on the agreement anymore due to unforeseen circumstances. The history of the partnership deal was dropped in Bramhall’s lap, and within the span of 24 hours, he would digest the information, tour the facility and work with Krumm to strategize for his client. The next morning, he negotiated four times, with each of the competitors representing Premier Service Corporation.

“By the last round, you’ve said your point so many times that you know what sticks and what you can get past,” Bramhall said. “But there was always something different based on what the hospitality company’s lawyers wanted or the way they approached you.”

When a student had to pull out, he decided to call in Bramhall.

The way Bramhall navigated through the first four negotiations caught the attention not only of the judges, but of the other law students at the event. At dinner after the first round of competition, when the finalists were announced, Bramhall’s name was among them. He also received The Closer’s professionalism award, voted on by his fellow competitors, and “quite an accolade,” according to Krumm.

Bobby Bramhall and Brian Krumm at the UT College of Law.

In a twist for the final round, the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission presented a hypothetical stumbling block to Balcones and Premier, and Bramhall had to prepare to address these new details. In order to succeed, Krumm said Bramhall needed “the ability to not only understand the law and understand how to develop a win-win situation, but to also react and modify [his] position based on new information.”

Bramhall negotiated twice more for the distillery’s interests. Afterward, he was named The Closer, as was one of the competitors who negotiated on behalf of the hospitality firm. 

His main goal when approaching the agreement was preserving the integrity of the distillery’s brand. “Balcones had built this brand—which is a true story about the distillery but also part of the fictional problem set that they gave us. I didn’t want that brand to be diluted in any way. The owners had told us, ‘We are just to the point where we’re so busy, we need someone to take it, and we want to pay them to do that. We just don’t want to lose what we’ve built.’” With that in mind, Bramhall was able to facilitate agreements that pleased all parties.

“He’s just got a natural way of looking for win-win situations,” Krumm said. “Unlike litigation, where you’re trying to beat the other side, transactional law is involved more with “How can we both get the most of what we want?” And it takes a very special personality to do that.”