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April 19, 2017

The University of Kentucky College of Law hosted Senior U.S. District Judge Curtis Lynn Collier of the Eastern District of Tennessee on Wednesday, April 12, as the final speaker for the 2016-17 Judicial Conversation Series.

Judge Collier was born in Marianna, Arkansas, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Tennessee State University in 1971 and a Juris Doctor degree from Duke University School of Law in 1974. Following graduation, Judge Collier joined the U.S. Air Force. He later served as the assistant U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of Louisiana and went on to hold the same office in the Eastern District of Tennessee. In 1995, President Bill Clinton nominated, and the Senate confirmed, Judge Collier to a seat on the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee, where he served as chief judge from 2005-2012. He assumed senior status in 2014. 

Joined by Judge Jennifer B. Coffman (Retired), Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, who served as moderator, Judge Collier began the open forum in the UK Law Courtroom by discussing the ways his career prepared him for the bench. The conversation quickly shifted to the focal point of the open forum: judicial clerkships.

Judge Collier encouraged students in attendance to obtain judicial clerkships. He noted that each judge uses law clerks differently, and over the span of his career, he has had over 30 who usually serve 1-2 year terms. When hiring a law clerk, Judge Collier makes a point to review every application, typically 400-500, as he searches for well-rounded, motivated applicants who stand out from the crowd.

“If you hire good people, you don’t have to stand over their shoulders and tell them what to do,” said Judge Collier.

Judge Collier went on to talk about the cherished relationships he has with his law clerks. When they begin their clerkships, he makes sure they know the importance of their work – after all, their job is to prepare him for court. He also makes it a priority to stay up-to-date on significant life events, which he shares through an internal newsletter. And sometimes those life events call for something extra – like when a law clerk welcomes a baby into the world. Judge Collier gifts the new parents a graphic onesie featuring a cracked egg and baby eagle. The bodysuit for the tiny tot reads, “Legal Eaglet, Future Collier Law Clerk.”

In addition to judicial clerkships, Judge Collier spoke about civility in the legal profession, his interests outside of the courtroom, and the impact of law school faculty. Looking back, Judge Collier told students he wished he would have made better use of his law school professors, encouraging today’s students to do just that.

“Your professors are invaluable,” said Judge Collier. “They are mentors; they are guides; and they can steer you in the right direction.”

Judge Collier wrapped up the conversation by answering intriguing questions from students in attendance. In conjunction with his visit, he served as guest lecturer earlier in the day for Professor Wendy Greene’s Constitutional Law II class and Professor Marianna Jackson-Clay’s Civil Pretrial class. Following the forum, he had lunch with 20 law students interested in federal and state judicial clerkships. And, upon his arrival, he visited with high school students interested in law at Carter G. Woodson Academy in Lexington.

Dean David A. Brennen initiated UK Law’s Judicial Conversation Series in 2012. Judge Coffman serves as the facilitator for the series. The purpose of the series is to provide thoughtful and engaging interactions between distinguished members of the judiciary and law students. Previous speakers have included Kentucky Supreme Court Justices Minton (Chief), Abramson, Cunningham, Keller, Noble, Scott and Venters; U.S. Tax Court Judge Joseph Goeke; U.S. Bankruptcy Court for Eastern District of Kentucky Judge Tracey Wise (Chief), Judge Roger L. Gregory, 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and Senior District Judge Thomas B. Russell.