On Saturday, February 6, 2015, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s team of Josh Campbell and Keith Mayer won first place overall in the American College of Bankruptcy Law Meet at USC.
The College of Law team competed against 11 schools in this business bankruptcy negotiation competition. In addition to USC and Utah, other schools from the West included UC Berkeley, UCLA (two teams), UC Davis, UC Irvine, Arizona, Chapman and Stanford. Two teams, American and Campbell, represented the East.
According to Professor Ralph Mabey, who served as coach, “In addition to carrying the overall top honors, Keith and Josh won first place for their final round term sheet that dealt with negotiating the distressed buyout of a troubled Napa Valley winery. “ Campbell and Mayer also got kudos for their bow ties, according to Mabey.
Mabey thanked the law firm of Kirton McConkie for their donation to help sponsor our team.
Watch for an expanded story about the competition in the near future.
(left to right) Josh Campbell, Keith Mayer and Professor Ralph Mabey
Interview with Campbell and Mayer
Below, team members Josh Campbell and Keith Meyer describe their experience, including their observation that one of the most difficult parts of the competition was separating the “prestige of the competitors from the competition.”
How did you prepare for the competition?
We were in Professor Mabey’s Bankruptcy Survey class when we entered the competition. In addition to his class we spent winter break studying the Bloomberg preparation materials that the competition provided, and then the weeks in between coming back from break and when our term sheets were due were spent pouring over the competition facts and identifying/researching relevant law. We met with Professor Mabey to discuss elements of the competition when we needed help, and got feedback from Professor Maudsley on our preparation. Darren Neilson at Kirton Mcconkie did a mock negotiation with us using the term sheets our opponents provided. In total we spent well over 100 hours researching and preparing for the competition and ended up doing more math than either of us expected to ever do again in our lives after coming to law school.
What skills or preparation served you particularly well against the other 11 law schools?
We treated the competition as if it were a real business situation, and that meant taking some factors into account that do not seem obvious at first. For example, every school studied the materials and the law, but we felt that having a working relationship with the other side at the end of the negotiation was very important, so when we were preparing to negotiate we came up with several ways that we could accomplish our goals while keeping the other side happy, and also considered parties not present at the negotiations. When we discussed that strategy with the judges during evaluation they responded really positively.
What about the competition surprised you?
The biggest surprise about this competition was learning about the interdependence of various legal and financial disciplines in bankruptcy. We signed up for the competition because we were in the bankruptcy class and felt comfortable working within that field. While we were preparing quickly had to learn about other fields in which we had no experience, especially accounting and transactional law. We were lucky to have great resources available so that we could become competent in these areas, and now can apply that knowledge in the future.
What aspect of the competition was most challenging?
One of the most challenging aspects of the competition was separating the prestige of our competitors from the competition. We knew that there were a lot of top 10 and 20 schools signed up, and on one hand that really drove us to work harder, but on the other worried us. We couldn’t help but think of how many brilliant students we were up against, and that some of them likely had backgrounds in the fields that we had no knowledge in. There were times that we seriously questioned what we had gotten ourselves into.
What role did Professor Mabey and others play in helping you prepare?
Without Professor Mabey there is no way we would have had come close to a win. He was our instructor for the basic bankruptcy class, and without his instruction I don’t think either of us would have even bothered to sign up. He always made himself available to us, and provided invaluable insight when we were lost or at an impasse as to how we should proceed. When we first started, we didn’t really understand what a giant he is in the bankruptcy community, the school is tremendously lucky to have him. Professor Maudsley was also key in our preparation. After we developed our plan she gave us criticism and suggestions that ended in us re-researching and re-evaluating a lot of what we had prepared. Darren Nielson at Kirton McConkie was gracious enough to take time out his day and do a mock negotiation with us working off of our competitors’ term sheets. Neither of us had any experience in negotiating and he really helped us develop presence and style. Finally, while Professor Holbrooke did not give any direct help, he is teaching the negotiation class, and had we not picked up some tips on how excellent negotiators deal with each other, achieving a win would have been very difficult.
How do you believe this competition will help you in practice?
We have no doubt that this competition will help us in practice. The financial situation and story of the ACB Winery is extremely common in Chapter 11. While the finances will be different, and the facts we be altered, the process of getting a company back on its feet is similar, and if we are lucky enough to work in the Chapter 11 field we have a much better base of knowledge than someone starting from scratch. We are both currently in Professor Maudsley’s Business Reorganizations class and we see immediate benefit from the competition. What we are doing in the class is very close to what we did for the competition.
Which classes or clinical experiences were most useful in preparing for this competition?
Professor Mabey’s bankruptcy class was the most important class for us. We came out of it very comfortable with the bankruptcy law we needed for the competition. Volunteering at the Debtor’s Clinic got us interested in bankruptcy initially, and taking Professor Maudsley’s Chapter 11 class and Professor Holbrooke’s negotiation class were very useful.
Would you recommend that other students participate in competitions?
We highly recommend that students participate in competitions. The practical experience that we acquired made all of the work and effort we put in worth it. We probably learned more in depth law and practical skills through the course of the competition than in any other class at the school. We met people, both students and bankruptcy professionals, who we otherwise would not have the opportunity to meet, and made some great connections. And of course the feeling of bringing a win home for the school is extraordinary. Earning respect from our classmates, faculty, and alumni from this competition could be the highlight of our law school careers.
Anything else you would like to add?
While we have already said it, a huge thank you to Professor Mabey for coaching us and setting up opportunities for us to develop throughout the competition, to Professor Maudsley for teaching us more in-depth knowledge of Chapter 11 and giving us invaluable feedback on our work, to Darren Neilson for taking the time to scare us into strong negotiators, to everyone at the law school who made our travel plans possible, and Dean Davies for allowing us to compete, to Kirton McConkie for the generous donation they made to make our trip possible, and to our girlfriends, Amanda and Katie, for putting up with many late nights and absent days. While we are extremely pleased with the result, we do not want to rest on our laurels. If possible, next year we hope to go to the bankruptcy competition in New York and take on the east coast schools to make a name for Utah Bankruptcy. Go Utes!