Sue McCollum manages to simultaneously command your attention and put you at ease. She feels like a family friend, yet she’s exceptionally articulate as she rattles off statistics on probate litigation and estate planning.

She fielded my call for an interview with mild curiosity. She joked about the selection process, and then warmly invited me over to her office for a chat.

Raised and educated in Utah, McCollum came to Santa Barbara when her husband, Tom, took a basketball-coaching job in town.

“We had the choice of Salt Lake City, Boise or Santa Barbara, and we chose Santa Barbara because it had always seemed like some sort of nirvana,” she said. Hands down, she still thinks they made the right choice.

During undergraduate and law school, McCollum held two unusual jobs: She worked as an X-ray technician and as an IRS tax examiner to put herself through school. She also worked briefly for a Salt Lake City law firm handling mostly medical malpractice cases, before moving to Santa Barbara and joining the firm of Hollister & Brace, at 1126 Santa Barbara St., in 1989. Now a principal, she is the go-to attorney for matters of estate planning, business consulting, probate and real estate litigation.

McCollum was originally heading toward a career in accounting, although admittedly not very excited about it. A friend suggested she take the LSAT (law school entry exam), which she did — without a minute of preparation.

Her scores earned her a spot at the Brigham Young University Law School and enabled her to continue on with academics, something she swears she honestly craves.

“I love learning new information and wanted to stay in school as long as possible,” McCollum said. “Thankfully, my job gives me that opportunity on a daily basis.”

Crediting the reputation of Hollister & Brace, McCollum has never spent time soliciting business. She does, however, speak at various community and legal gatherings. She’s a member of the Utah and California Bar, the Santa Barbara Women Lawyers, a delegate to the California State Bar Conference and the master of the bar for the American Inns of Court for the past 11 years.

McCollum said she prefers to keep most her cases in the Santa Barbara area these days, saying she likes the local court and her fellow attorneys.

“It’s the perfect-size town to practice law,” she said. “It’s large enough to have diversity in the cases that come through and to support numerous lawyers. It’s small enough for the attorneys to all know each other. As a result, we are collegial and respectful in a way that doesn’t happen in larger cities. And the judges see the same lawyers and know who is a straight shooter.”

A veteran of disputes over property, McCollum said she prefers to be on the planning side instead of the litigating side. She advises everyone to have an estate plan in place.

“It specifies your wishes and eliminates disputes better than a will can,” she said. “It also eliminates needless taxes that arise from probate.” Additionally, she strongly suggests that people have a health-care directive.

While she misses the colorful fall leaves of Utah, McCollum said Santa Barbara is a pretty wonderful place to live and raise her three children. When asked to name her favorite Santa Barbara eatery, she quipped, “In which category?” She broke them down with the precision only an attorney could apply: lobster bisque at Fish Enterprise Co., onion rings at Longboard’s Grill, salsa at Playa Azul and the chicken picata at Chase Bar & Grill.

Her favorite spots to take visiting family and friends are Goleta Beach, Stearns Wharf and the Douglas Family Preserve.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at Click here to see more of her work.