Celia J. Collins
The partner at Johnstone, Adams, Bailey, Gordon & Harris
on the changes in employment law over the years, getting more
women involved in Alabama politics and making time for triathlons
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED AND EDITED BY NYSSA GESCH
Q: What inspired you to pursue law?
A: Unlike my children, I actually knew
what I wanted to do when I went to
college. [Laughs] I was involved in the
Alabama Youth Legislature in high school
and just the whole process of drafting
legislation was interesting to me. Then,
when I was a freshman in college, the
Watergate hearings were going on—it
was all on TV. I remember—it was in
the summer when I was home from
Randolph-Macon Woman’s College—
just being mesmerized with it. I was
captivated particularly by the cross-exams
of some of the southern senators, notably
Howard Baker and Chair Sam Ervin. And
that pretty much cemented the law school
thing in my future.
Howell Heflin was also an influence on
my decision. He served as Alabama’s chief
justice during my late high school and
college years, and I had the opportunity
during that time to hear him speak on a
couple of occasions. I do recall being so
impressed by his style later on when he
was questioning court nominees on the
Senate Judiciary Committee.
Q: How did you end up choosing your
A: My dad was a manufacturing plant
manager and a lot of the time he was
involved with unionized plants. When we
were in Opelika, which is where I grew
up, his labor lawyer from Atlanta would
sometimes come to our house for dinner
so they could talk privately about what
was going on with the union. I would
be sitting there at the dinner table as
a 16-year-old and just was fascinated.
I think because I’d grown up in that
environment with personnel and human
resources—it was a topic of father’s
business conversations, at least—I had an
interest in that.
On top of that, my grandfather was
actually a union steward at Ford Motor, so I
had both sides of it.
Q: What’s your favorite part about
practicing in employment law?
A: It’s always interesting. It’s human nature.
You never know what people will do, never
know what’s going on with people’s minds
in the workplace. The whole harassment
area tends to be fascinating. On top of that,
it’s such an evolving area of law. Since I’ve
been practicing, the ADA [Americans with
Disabilities Act] came out, the Family [and
Medical] Leave Act, Title VII [of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964], harassment cases all
of a sudden became jury trials when they
had not been when I first started practicing.
Everything coming down from Washington
now has employment law implications, so
Q: Do you have a most memorable case?
Q: So no trial.
A: In the employment law area—I don’t
know that it’s memorable for any reason
other than the facts were particularly
interesting—I had the opportunity to defend
a condom manufacturer in a harassment
case, where its supervisor was accused of
exposing himself on the production line.
And I am not making that up. [Laughs]
We ended up getting a summary
judgment. So we did win.
A: No, we got a summary judgment from
the judge before trial. That would have
been something to try. [Laughs]
Q: Do you go to trial often?
A: Not really that much. [In] my area in
employment law, a lot of the cases settle.
There’s a lot of summary judgments
entered because the 11th Circuit law, where
we practice, is very pro-employer. [So] not
as much as I’d like; I love going to trial.
Q: What do you see as the most
challenging part of your job?
A: Keeping up with the law as it evolves,
keeping up with the changes in the way you
practice, such as technology. The new thing
now in court is PowerPoint and TrialDirector.
When you’ve been practicing for decades
without it, learning to do it that way and
learning to do it well that way is a challenge.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part about
being a lawyer?
A: I love the intellectual challenge. I love
AT TORNEYS SELECTED TO SUPER LAW YERS WERE CHOSEN IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PROCESS ON PAGE 11.