Get to Know Trent Collier

Trent Collier is a partner at Collins Einhorn Farrell PC in Southfield, where his practice focuses on civil appeals, professional-liability defense, and commercial litigation. Before joining Collins Einhorn, he was a partner at a Detroit-area law firm and a judicial clerk for a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court.

He is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Harvard Divinity School, and Ohio Wesleyan University.

Collier has written on areas including appellate practice, judicial philosophy, evidentiary issues, constitutional matters, and developments in insolvency law.

He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Teresa, and their two daughters.

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Favorite local hangouts: The Ark for concerts, Literati for books, and Cardamom for dinner.

Favorite websites: I’m just getting the hang of Twitter, but it seems like a great resource. #AppellateTwitter is an active group of judges and lawyers from across the country, with lots of substantive (and pleasantly non-substantive) discussions. I check pretty regularly for news on significant appellate decisions. Other than that, it’s mostly the New York Times and the New Yorker.

What is your most treasured material possession?
All the irreplaceable family stuff—my grandmother’s bible, my mother’s paintings, notes and pictures from my daughters, books I’ve pilfered from my dad’s library over the years, letters from my wife when she and I were going to graduate schools in different time zones. 

What is your proudest moment as a lawyer? One moment that stands out is the day I received the Attorney Discipline Board’s opinion in one of the first appeals I argued there. Our client was an attorney who had been very publicly accused of misconduct and dragged through the mud in the press. But he did nothing wrong at all. My partner got a successful outcome for our client before a hearing panel, and my job was to defend it on appeal. The Board affirmed the ruling in our client’s favor. That was a real vindication for our client, and I was enormously proud to be part of his defense. But what made the experience so meaningful was how much patience and class our client showed throughout the process. Representing that client taught me a lot about what character means.

What was always written on your grade school report card?
Does the Fifth Amendment apply? If so, I’m invoking it.

What is your happiest childhood memory? Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ home in Rocky River, Ohio, and summer vacations at my grandmother’s home in Virginia. 

When you were considering law school, what was Plan B?
Teaching religious studies. I had finished a Master’s degree in Theological Studies and was weighing whether to pursue a Ph.D. or go to law school. 

What would surprise people about your job?
How much writing an appellate brief is like solving a puzzle. There are lots of wrong ways to argue for the right result. Writing a good brief requires navigating through those factual, legal, and ethical problems, and putting the pieces together to form a compelling whole. I can usually tell when I’ve solved the puzzle and when I haven’t.

What do you wish someone would invent? Effective gun control legislation. 

When you look back into the past, what do you miss most? Rocking and singing my daughters to sleep.

What is your most typical mood? Grateful. During the day, I get to work with smart, good-natured lawyers on interesting cases. Each evening, I go home to three of the most delightful people I’ve ever met. So I spend most of my time feeling very, very fortunate.

If you could have witnessed any event in history, what would it be?
The first performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. The second movement is the most gorgeous piece of music I know, and it would be something to see it entering the world for the first time.

Who is on your guest list for the ideal dinner party? David Cole and all of the staff attorneys at the ACLU. They’ve been doing incredible work this past year, from defending immigrants to fighting against the Muslim travel ban to challenging the discriminatory ban on transgender soldiers. As a lawyer who cares about basic constitutional values like equal protection, I’d love to sit and learn from them. And, as a citizen, I’d love to thank them for defending our constitution.

What question do you most often ask yourself? I’m constantly dissecting my writing and oral arguments to figure out what worked and what I could have done better.

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be? Anyone who’s spending the day fly-fishing for trout. 

What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been?
My folks took us on a whale-watching cruise when I was a kid and I never really got over it. It’s not just how enormous whales are. It’s how gentle and obviously intelligent they are, and how mysterious. Teresa and I took our daughters on a whale-watching cruise this summer and I felt the same awe I did as a kid.

What’s something you changed your mind about recently? Multitasking. I used to believe every lawyer had to learn to multitask effectively. But I’ve come to realize that you can only do one task at a time, and trying to diffuse your attention to several tasks at once just makes you less effective at all of them. I’m more careful now about eliminating distractions so I can really focus on whatever I’m doing. 

What word do you overuse? According to my oldest daughter, I overuse the word “Gus!” That’s the name of our old mutt, who is constantly getting into trouble. So it’s really Gus’s fault.

What is one thing you would like to learn to do? I’m a hack fly fisherman and would love to learn all the details that make the sport such an art—timing of hatches, how to tie flies, how to read currents, and so on.

What is something most people don’t know about you? I’ve been a musician all my life, and still play in a couple of bands.

What is the best advice you ever received?
When I joined Collins Einhorn Farrell PC, the head of our appellate group, Noreen Slank, had to do a lot of arm-twisting to get me to use contractions in legal briefs. I finally gave in, and discovered that using contractions led to more direct, informal writing. And that led to more effective arguments. It seems like a little thing, but I think using contractions was a big step toward becoming a better legal writer.

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