Celia J. Collins on Humor in the Courtroom and Changes in the Practice of Law

In January, we spoke with Celia J. Collins, a partner at Johnstone, Adams, Bailey, Gordon & Harris in Mobile, Ala., about her employment law career, her participation in triathlons and how she's helped women get involved in Alabama politics. Our conversation will be featured as a Q&A in the next issue of Alabama Super Lawyers, out in May, but since not all of the interview will fit in the print edition, here's an exclusive excerpt from our conversation.

celiajcollins.jpgHas anything funny happened to you in the courtroom?
It wasn't funny at the time but in hindsight it's probably my funniest experience. I was giving a closing argument in a jury trial in Montgomery and the fire alarm went off. I was kind of in the heat of passion and it didn't register for a few seconds, and then it did. I looked at my co-counsel, and then I looked at the judge, who was an elderly judge from another state who was just helping out at that courthouse-so it wasn't even his courthouse-and he looks at me and he says, "I guess we better go outside!" So we all get up-jury, judge, all the lawyers-and go march outside. It turned out they were doing some construction work on the courthouse and the dust had gotten on the fire alarm. But I cannot believe that happened.

Have you noticed any major changes in the practice of law during your career?
Technology. Because of technology in private practice, it's now gone to a more regional and national arena, as opposed to the local offices, and that's really changed a lot of things. Instead of working with one of my colleagues from Mobile or from Birmingham or another part of the state, I may be opposed by some lawyer from New York or Atlanta or somewhere. You don't have that relationship that, to me, helps everything go more smoothly when you're on opposite sides of the case.

Is that because of the previous work experience with them?
The previous experience, knowing them and most of the time, fortunately, among Alabama lawyers, there's a lot of trust and respect, so you treat each other properly. With out-of-towners, that's not always true.

Is there anything about you that might surprise others?
Well, I can get really nervous before a closing argument or 11th Circuit argument and I have to talk myself down.

--Nyssa Gesch