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ICON Awards 2021: Doreen Dodson, Polsinelli

Forget about precedent, case law, mock trials and obscure journal articles. For Doreen Dodson, going back to school as a lifelong learner at Doreen DodsonWashington University in St. Louis has meant a steady diet of African-American literature, French cultural history and detective novels.

Nearly five years since retiring from Polsinelli, Dodson’s days remain full with volunteer work (primarily for Bar organizations), travel and family visits — most recently, an early summer trip to New England for three high school graduations by three different grandkids. The former teacher also looks forward to again working as reading tutor in the St. Louis Public Schools — a nod to her first career as a teacher in North Carolina.

“These types of things bring home what’s really important,” she said.

The former Polsinelli senior partner, 78, who made history in 1990 as the first woman elected president of The Missouri Bar, is no stranger to accolades. She received a special Bar honor in 2016 for
her “countless and on-going contributions … tireless work for the betterment of the legal profession, and her unwavering dedication to the organization’s success.”

Under Dodson’s leadership, The Bar successfully advocated for the Missouri Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act. She also provided national leadership as a Missouri delegate to the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates and served as Missouri State Chair of the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation in 2003-2009.

In 2012, Dodson earned a nod as this publication’s Woman of the Year, not only for her efforts to pass the aforementioned state law but also her role in advising the Missouri Supreme Court to open attorney disciplinary hearings sooner to the public. She has helped evaluate federal judge nominees as a member of an ABA committee that rated nominees to aid in the confirmation process.

Growing up as an only child in Pennsylvania, Dodson was inspired by her father David T. Davis, Jr., a Harvard Law graduate who died when she was seven. The future lawyer earned her undergraduate degree from Duke University and a master’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, initially working as a special education teacher.

A family move to St. Louis for her then-husband’s pediatric neurology residency at Children’s Hospital led Dodson to Saint Louis University School of Law. The young mother (her children were 1, 2 ½ and 4 when they moved) balanced classes and exams with parenthood, graduating law school at a time when
90 percent of her classmates were male.

She got her professional start as an associate with the late Louis Gilden, followed by seven years overseeing the elder law unit at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. Dodson returned to her alma mater in 1983, as assistant professor in charge of the law school’s legal clinic, before joining The Stolar Partnership, focusing on the labor and employment practice where she got her start. Dodson joined Polsinelli in 2013, focusing on labor, employment and immigration law.

Two of her children grew up to be lawyers: daughter Anna is a partner in the Boston office of big law firm Goodwin; while Jason, a former managing attorney in the domestic violence/family law unit at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, is now a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge. Son Will (the non-lawyer of the bunch) is a chef in Vermont.

ICON Awards 2021