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Denver Law Student Wins Baylor’s Transactional Law Competition

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Sturm College of Law

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Ryann Connell at The Closer competition

Ryann Connell (r) took top honors at The Closer transactional law competition

On the morning of Friday, January 13th, Ryann Connell received the details of a hypothetical contract between the City of Waco, Texas, and a real-world real estate development client seeking tax incentives for an economic development activity (EDA). The ominous date would end up having nothing on Connell, who just won Baylor University Law School’s national transactional law competition, The Closer.  Connell, a 3L student at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, had 24 hours to review a Dropbox folder of research materials, including a single file with over 200 pages of content, describing the EDA and her client’s planned expansion of a food hall featuring recreation activities. As part of the weekend-long activities, Connell and other participating students made a visit to Waco’s Union Hall, the food hall opened by the same developer in 2019, and on which the negotiations were loosely based.

By Saturday morning, Connell was ready to negotiate with the city’s lawyers—actually law students from schools such as Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, Emory University School of Law, and Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. Four negotiation rounds on Saturday would help secure Connell the win on the side of the developer, and a real-life $5,000 check at the conclusion of the competition on Sunday. As Connell described it, “Once you make it to the finals in The Closer, Baylor throws a new ‘issue’ into the deal to make it more challenging for the finalists.” This year’s curve ball involved the parties’ last-minute proposed addition of improvements to the lot adjacent to the food hall that was the subject of the EDA, requiring more quick thinking and negotiating in the Sunday morning finals.

Since 2017, Baylor Law in Waco has been hosting The Closer, which brings “the best transactional law students from the best transactional law programs in the country together to compete before accomplished and distinguished transactional law attorneys,” according to the competition’s website. Although Denver Law students have made it to the finals of this contest three times now, this is the first time in DU’s sixth consecutive year of participating in the invitation-only event that one of them has come home with one of the two grand prizes awarded to the top student on each side of the hypothetical negotiation. The winner on the other side of this year’s contest, representing the City of Waco, was University of Houston law student Will Cowan.

Ryann Connell
Professor Elizabeth Miller (c) hosted Baylor Law's The Closer competition where DU's Ryann Connell (third from left) shared the win with Houston Law's Will Cowan (r).

“I think this might be one of my favorite experiences in all of law school,” says Connell, who transferred to DU as a 2L and registered for as many commercial and corporate law courses as possible, including several with Professor Stacey Bowers, who directs Denver Law’s Corporate and Commercial Law Program. Her champion and professor, Bowers is clearly proud of Connell’s win and efforts. “Ryann was a well-poised and strong competitor…I’m excited to see a student finally snag a win at this one,” Bowers writes. Both have much to celebrate and the feelings are mutual. Connell notes that Bowers “gave a huge investment of her time this weekend and I appreciate that so much.” Connell also appreciates that Bowers’ “Accounting for Lawyers” class “helped me realize I actually do enjoy math.” Bowers sees great value in interschool competition, and even during the pandemic, when Baylor’s competition also went virtual, Bowers was busy organizing an online competition hosted by DU’s Sturm College of Law, Transactional LawMeet®. Bowers gives “a shout-out to law professor Elizabeth Miller and the crew at Baylor” for continuing to organize this offering. “They make it an incredible competition.”

This experiential learning opportunity was one that Connell was glad to have. “It gave me a lot of confidence that I will be able to enter the real world as an attorney and work with other attorneys on the other side of the deal…I feel like it gave me a lot of confidence for graduating law school this May.” That future already looks bright for Ryann Connell, as she has accepted an offer with the Denver office of a large law firm following graduation. Asked whether she can use this experience to negotiate her future, she provides her father’s advice to her upon winning: “I think we learned everything’s negotiable.”