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Dodd bounces back from tragedy with triumphs

By: JESSICA STEPHEN//January 25, 2013//

Dodd bounces back from tragedy with triumphs

By: JESSICA STEPHEN//January 25, 2013//

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Kelly Dodd (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

The biggest case of Kelly Dodd’s career started off as just another attempt to collect child support.

“I didn’t expect it to change family law,” said Dodd, who recently became a partner with Stafford Rosenbaum in Milwaukee.

The case, known commonly as Frisch vs. Henrichs, set legal precedent in defining the court’s ability to hold a party in contempt for not disclosing financial information in post-judgment child support modifications.

Most often, Dodd said, it is cited in hopes of spurring more timely and accurate accounting of financial resources. And it comes into play when someone paying child support misses a court-ordered or state-mandated deadline for updating financial information in a child support agreement.

“It’s probably, at this point, my most important professional achievement because it has been, so far, enduring and has, I think, been beneficial to litigants and their families,” Dodd said. “It’s created law that is good for kids.”

It’s been her only Wisconsin Supreme Court case so far, although she has appeared before the state Court of Appeals more than 15 times.

The experience helped establish Dodd as a family attorney, who has gone on to work as a family law mediator and assistant adjunct professor at her alma mater, Marquette University Law School, where she offered a workshop on client interviewing and counseling.

And she did much of that work after losing her 36-year-old husband, Jeff, who died from cancer about five years ago. His passing left Dodd alone with four children, including a then-16-month-old son.

“I know of a lot of single mothers who are attorneys, but I don’t know of any widowed mothers who are attorneys,” Dodd said. “And I’ve learned there’s a big difference between being a single parent and being a parent alone.”

Spared the fate of some of her clients, who argue bitterly over child-rearing issues, Dodd said she’s learned the challenge of making decisions alone for her children, ages 5 to 18.

She’s also embraced the opportunities for new partnership, not only at her firm but in her personal life; Dodd remarried in July and welcomed three stepchildren into her life.

“It’s a happy postscript,” she said.

Wisconsin Law Journal: What do you consider your biggest achievement?
Kelly Dodd: My biggest overall achievement is raising four children alone while continuing to work full-time in a demanding practice area. But I don’t know if that counts as an achievement because when it comes to my kids, I don’t have a choice.

WLJ: What is the best part of being an attorney?
Dodd: The two things I like most are the people and the intellectual challenge. I’ve met some of the most fascinating people. And I think the intellectual challenge of law is understated, although sometimes I joke that all I have to do to be good at my job is divide by two. But that’s not always the case.

WLJ: What can you spend hours doing that’s not law-related?
Dodd: Hands down, singing and performing. I’m in a rock-and-roll band, a cover band called Sound Therapy. I’ve been in bands for the last seven years, so I sing and I perform. And stare at maps. I’m a geography junkie.

WLJ: What trait do you most like in others?
Dodd: In my children, I most value their independence and resilience. Otherwise, I appreciate forbearance, charitableness and a sense of humor.

WLJ: What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue?
Dodd: Zeal. I see lawyers do a lot of things they shouldn’t in the name of zealousness.

WLJ: What was your least-favorite course in law school?
Dodd: Estate planning and probate. All the talk about measuring lives and the rule against perpetuities was just boring, although I did learn that you could render a valid will if your ship is going down. If you can’t write a will, you could give one orally, provided you found someone to take it. I keep that knowledge handy in case my ship ever sinks.

WLJ: What was your most useful course in law school?
Dodd: I took a course about how to start and manage your own law practice. And, although I’ve never started or managed my own law practice, it was a very useful look into the unglamorous but necessary aspects of a law practice.

WLJ: If you could develop one CLE course for credit, what would it be about?
Dodd: It would be a, ‘Where are they now?’ course, featuring famous family law litigants who have lent their very personal stories to the development of our case law. Frisch is not just the name of a case. She’s a real woman, a real mother, who put her very personal facts out there to further the causes of others. I would like to know the postscript of those cases.

WLJ: Which famous person would most like to have a drink with? What would you drink?
Dodd: I would drink with C.S. Lewis, because I think his epistolary novel ‘The Screwtape Letters’ should be required reading for all lawyers. And he lost his spouse to cancer and wrote about it. I would drink what I always drink: Malibu rum and Coke with a twist of lime. I would drink a pina colada, but they’re too hard to make.

WLJ: What is your greatest fear?
Dodd: It’s a little morbid, but it’s that I will die before my children are raised. It’s the fear of every widowed parent — that you’re one heartbeat away from leaving your children alone.


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