From Cynic to Public Servant: Meet Keith F. Collins

Jones Mayer partner Keith F. Collins grew up the son of a lawyer. His father’s firm in Lancaster, California, handled wills and personal injury cases, helping victims of on-the-job injuries get the financial security they needed. As kids, Mr. Collins and his siblings would help their father take good care of his clients by leaving anonymous holiday gift baskets on their doorsteps.

We sat down with Mr. Collins to learn how generous games of “ding-dong ditch” inform his work as a municipal attorney today.

A family with a giving mindset

“My father told lots of stories about people getting injured and not being able to work anymore,” Mr. Collins says. Despite the tragic impacts on the clients’ families, their stories gave Mr. Collins a deep understanding of how meaningful the family’s helping gestures were.

The idea of following in his father’s footsteps didn’t appeal to him right away. “I always thought people who went to law school were nuts,” he says. “Doing all that studying and reading didn’t make sense to me.”

Still, the giver’s instinct ran deep. After college, his first thought was to become a teacher. He earned a master’s degree in education at Whittier College and found a job teaching junior high school history classes. “After three years, I surprisingly got bored,” he says. The 2008 economic crisis found him at a crossroads, with his job suddenly eliminated through budget cuts. In a mood to explore a new path, he ran into Dick Jones at church. “Dick encouraged me to go to law school. Until then, I hadn’t thought about it, but the idea stuck.”

Although he had Jones Mayer firmly in mind as a potential landing spot, as a student at Whittier Law School, Mr. Collins explored other paths. He clerked for the Los Angeles District Attorney for a semester during law school. Criminal law had its upsides. It was rewarding to help put away the bad guys, and when the television crews showed up, Mr. Collins had a chance to be on the evening news. But dealing with the details of horrendous crimes wasn’t his cup of tea.

“Being exposed to evil every day was tough. Maybe I’m just a softie,” he says with a smile.

Finding his place

In 2011 Mr. Collins spent his 2L summer clerking for Jones Mayer. “I was impressed with how professional the attorneys were,” he recalls. Having the opportunity to rub elbows with highly accomplished city attorneys and learn something of their craft was quite special. “I thought to myself “Well, Dick, You told me to go to law school, so you’d better hire me,” he says with a laugh.

“As soon as I joined the firm, I was treated as an equal,” Mr. Collins says. “The work is complicated, highly public, and important. From the start, I was expected to do the job well.” He’s appreciated the flexibility offered by the way Jones Mayer structures engagements. “A couple of times in my career, I was starting to feel like I’d hit a dead end, but Dick gives us a chance to pursue the things that interest us, so I’ve never felt trapped.”

From cynic to public servant

Serving public agencies has been as rewarding as it has been eye-opening. “I was a pretty a cynical teenager,” Mr. Collins admits. “I had a relatively negative attitude about the police and politicians. I thought they were all corrupt and only out for themselves. But working intimately with them, I quickly learned that the vast majority of people in public service are good people trying to build better communities.”

Mr. Collins revels in the unsung role of working behind the scenes to support the efforts of city leaders and boards of sanitation and healthcare districts. “The work raises so many interesting issues: policing and civil rights, First Amendment, land use, public transparency. It’s always engaging and connected to important community goals. It’s very rewarding to advocate on behalf of public entity clients.”

Raising a young family at home gives Mr. Collins a personal stake in building a better world. “When I get to work through a complex set of objections to a project and find a way through the roadblocks to achieving an agency’s goals, that’s what gives me the most satisfaction,” Mr. Collins says. “It’s work behind the scenes and usually invisible to the public. I love to see the results of so much hard work by so many people come to fruition in improving communities in California. That’s the best part of working at Jones Mayer.”

Mr. Collins can be reached by email at