Jacqueline Dodd is an Allen attorney who assists children with special needs and helps families restructure with ease. Dodd was born in El Paso and later moved to Dallas where she began her law practice with the Dallas District Attorney’s office. By February of 2019, Dodd opened her own firm where she can focus on children and families more, inspired by her son, Travis.
What inspired you to open a law firm?
I had been in private practice before, then I went to work for a couple of family law firms. What prompted me to go back was my child has special needs. He has Down syndrome and has some behavior issues. He was needing me to be home a lot more with him than I was, so I've been thinking about it for a while, and I decided to take that leap of faith to see if it works. I'm a single mom, so I have to work or there's going to be some big issues. I took that leap of faith for him, and it turned out to be really good. I left at the end of February, and I went into private practice and I started doing well, and I’ve been able to spend more time at home with him to do more activities with him. He was used to me getting off of work and picking him up at 6, and he knew the routine was dinner, bath, bed. For the first two weeks, he was like, 'Don't you have to go to work? Why are you here?' It'll be an interesting summer. It'll be the first summer he's used to me being around like I've been, which has been nice. He's learned really well how to let me work and do his own thing, and he goes to summer school, then we have our time together.
What are some challenges to being a single parent to a child with Down syndrome?
My biggest challenge is that I have a good support system, but I don't have a lot of people who can help with him. He can't go into a regular daycare program or summer camp program. We've tried them, and he's been kicked out of them many times. It just doesn't work with him. I have to rely on friends to work with him or friends who are really good at working with children. Some of his prior teachers have been able to help me, which is good, so it helps going into private practice, because I can be there a little bit more with him.
How did you get into law?
I went straight from college to law school, and it was my last year in college. My undergraduate degree is human development and family studies with an emphasis on early childhood. We watched a documentary on how a daycare in California had been sued, and after that documentary, I realized I really want to advocate for kids in a bigger role than what I was doing. At that point, I was getting ready to get my teacher's certification, because I always wanted to teach early childhood through eighth grade, and I always wanted to teach the babies. They were doing a lot of training for the TAKS testing at the time, and I didn't love that as much, so on a whim, I thought, 'Let's take the LSAT and see if I get into law school,' and I got in, got through it, and I can say law school is hell. It's awful, but I love what I do now. I feel like having a child with special needs and growing up with siblings in the special education system, I feel like my life has been put into this pathway. What my passion is and what I enjoy doing mostly is juvenile speds. I'm doing that a lot more than I was doing before.
What interests you in juveniles?
Initially, I just loved the little bitties, because they still like school, and they still like their teachers, and they want that drive to succeed. When I got out of college into the law field, I started at the Dallas DA's office and I did adult prosecutions. It just becomes this known – if you come in on a first offense, it's so many days in jail, and if it's a second offense, you add 20 to 30 days, and so on. I didn't feel like we were helping somebody. I soon went to the juvenile division, and on that side, I went into prosecuting and defense work, and you feel like you really can make a difference in a kid's life and help keep them out of the adult system. I think that's been my drive. Ever since I've been out of college, I've wanted to help people and try to make a difference in any way I can, and I tell people, 'If I can help one kid stay out of the adult criminal system, if I can help one family get their kid into a better program at school, then my job has been done.
What other cases do you work on?
I also do divorce work, because I did family law for several years now, so I'll do divorces and modifications. My favorite dealings with divorces are when there are children involved, and I can help families put together a good plan for their kids, although one of the parents is my client, as long as the parents are concerned about their children, that's where my passion lies. I've done divorce cases with just property, but when there are children involved, I am more passionate. I'll get creative with a parenting plan with a schedule that works for both parents and the children. I love helping families who have children with special needs because I understand it. I've had a lot of juvenile clients who also have special needs, and before the parents knew anything about me, they would say that their child is not a bad kid, they're just not, and, 'You don't understand, Jackie.' Finally I go, 'No, I do understand, because I have one, and we've had our meltdowns at Walmart, and we had the meltdown in front of the house where I had to drag him in the house.' I'm like, 'I get it.' A lot of parents who have children with special needs go through that. The ugly side of parenting that isn't so glorious or fun, it's the hard part. I can identify with my clients a lot with that, and I think that helps. I have a lot of empathy for it because I live it, and I understand it. I think it's easier to relate different situations to me.
When did you become involved with special education?
I became involved with that when I moved to my last firm in March 2017, and I learned about special education. I was there until February of 2019. It helped me to become a much better advocate for my child. I realized there was so much I didn't understand, and I realized how much more I could learn.
How do you help parents with Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meetings?
Usually in the ARD meetings, I go in if a parent wants legal representation to be there and help them and go into those meetings. I talk with parents ahead of time and review the IEP (Individualized Education Program) ahead of time. I try to do a lot of educating on this is what your child is entitled to, these are the different areas where your child can be serviced, let's look at where do you have problems with your child, and let's look at where you and the school can work together on that. I will go in and advocate for what parents want for their child, but I can also help them understand what more they are entitled to. A lot of times when you have someone professional or an attorney who can help going into the meetings, it keeps the parents from having a hard time in the meetings. They understand that they have someone on their side who can understand the legal terms and guide them through that. I've had a lot of parents and friends who are very educated tell me that they don't understand what the schools are talking about. They keep throwing out all these acronyms that parents don't understand, so the parents just agree. I tell so many people that they can't just agree. They at least need to understand what they agree to. I think the schools do it so much that they don't slow it down enough for what parents need. My goal is to really educate them and get them to a place that they will see the most progress in their child.
Where do you plan to go as your firm grows?
I plan to stay local in Allen. Right now I use an office from a friend of mine, and if I were ever to get my own office, I would make sure it stays in Allen. I really love the community here. I moved here after my divorce as a single mom, I moved to a city I knew two people in. We love it. We love the school system, we love the people. I think we'll always be a part of Allen. My son will forever be an Allen Eagle. He reminds me on a daily basis that I am not. He'll always tell me, 'You are not a real Eagle, Mom, because you do not go to school here.' I go, 'Well that is true.' We love the football games, we go to all of it, so I don't think I could possibly move him out. I have just gone through the Allen Fairview leadership class, and I joined the chamber of commerce, and I just love it because I've heard so much about Allen. It's a small city, but has such amazing history.
How has Dodd Law Offices impacted the Allen community?
I think I bring a local presence by helping anyone who is in the immediate area who needs help with things. My goal is to continue that presence, let people know I'm there. Most of the time, I step in a really bad time of somebody's life. But I want people to know I'm there if they need some educating or if they need some help. I try to talk with as many churches or organizations as possible to say, 'Let me come in and talk to your parents and teenagers to talk about how to keep your kids out of trouble and how to know the beginning signs.' I'll talk to parents and children with special needs about the things they're entitled to. I want to be a welcoming part of the community and have people call me when they have questions. I'm trying very hard to keep my fees economical for that reason as well. I want to be on the forefront of their minds. Even if they have a question, they can reach out.
What brought you to Allen?
I had two friends here, and I heard really good things about the special education system in schools and the fact that it's a one-high school town, which for a child who's going to be in special education, I don't think he’s ever going to get lost in that big of a school, but he will have more friends and more people all over town to stick up for him and be his friend. We've seen a lot of that. I've been here since he was 3, and he's 9 now. I started seeing that after about two years. He's been involved in the ASA sports, he's gone to the football games, we've had friends who babysat him, so he knows different people from a lot of areas and outlets in Allen. He's starting the Special Olympics sports, so we've been to several different places. We'll just walk in, and people say, 'Hey Travis. How's it going?' They'll hug him or give him a high five. It's neat, and that's what I want for him, because I grew up in a big town. It wasn't that small for me, so it's neat that wherever he goes, he seems to get to know people. I've had my mom come into town from El Paso, and I took her to a football game once, and about five different kids walked up to Travis and said hi. Finally by the third kid, my mom asks, 'Do you know these kids?' and I go, 'No, Travis knows them form sports, from school, from all the activities he does in the town.'