On January 14, 2024, Kevin Escalona (UT Law ’24) won The Closer, the nation’s most challenging transactional law competition. The Closer is hosted by Baylor Law School in Waco, Texas. Each year, Baylor Law invites fourteen law schools to compete. Unlike most competitions, each school can send only one student. Each competitor is given only 24 hours to digest their client’s extensive files and prepare to negotiate a deal.
“The tight timeframe aims to mirror the realistic pressures that transactional lawyers face in practice, forcing students to identify critical legal issues and negotiate creative solutions to serve their client’s goals,” explains Professor Krumm, who has served as the University of Tennessee College of Law’s coach each year of the competition.
Since The Closer started in 2017, a UT Law competitor has been a top finisher (either first or second place) six times.
Escalona was a student in the Transactional Law Clinic, part of the in the Legal Clinic at UT Law, in the spring of 2023. “Kevin was selected to represent UT Law in The Closer because he demonstrated a sophisticated ability to solve problems and think quickly on his feet in working with his clinic clients,” says Professor Krumm.
This year’s competition challenged the law students to negotiate an agreement between Hotel 1928 (a historic hotel renovated by Chip and Joanna Gaines of Magnolia and Fixer Upper fame), and Neighborly, Inc., a Waco-based home service provider. The competitors learn that Neighborly, Inc. wants to host a conference at Hotel 1928 during the April 2024 solar eclipse. The competitors must negotiate use of the hotel and its restaurants and terms for employment of entertainers, insurance for outdoor liquor sales, use of trademarks, and advertising.
Fourteen law students competed in four preliminary rounds of negotiations. Through a series of 40-minute matches in front of experienced transactional lawyers, competitors were judged on their presence and professionalism, knowledge of legal and financial issues, and ability to find creative solutions to reach an agreement that satisfied their client’s goals.
“Each year the competition gets better,” explains Krumm. “The judges this year commented that the competitors were as good as any associates they had in their firms.”
At the end of day one, Escalona advanced to the final round as one of four competitors. A new wrinkle was added to the deal for the finalists: Neighborly, Inc. increased the complexity of the negotiation by requesting that Hotel 1928 obtain city permits for road closures, secure police details, and arrange for EMT services.
In the final round, Escalona was selected as the best lawyer representing Hotel 1928, winning The Closer, which included a $5,000 cash prize.
“The Closer was an incredible opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills my legal education has instilled in me,” Escalona says. “The organizers and judges did a fantastic job creating an environment in which each competitor’s skills could be tested, while providing valuable feedback to further develop each contestant’s skills as an attorney. I am grateful for the opportunity to compete in such a well-organized and executed event.”