To be honest, East Nashville attorney Jessica Doyle is a little shocked that she’s being named East Nashvillian of the Year by the Historic East Nashville Merchants Association. “It’s a dream come true, of course; I’m elated,” she says. “But it’s a little surreal because I just think our neighborhood is full of about 400 people who do things more applaudable than what I’m doing. I’m just doing what anyone here would be doing … It’s kind of the East Nashville way.”
“Her love of East Nashville and people is infectious,” says fellow East Nashvillian Ann Mayo, a long-time friend of Doyle. “If she’s on board with something, whatever it is, helping kids, raising money for people, she can get everyone around her to do it. She’s always been so proud of East Nashville, proud to be an East Nashvillian, and she is one of the most inclusive people I know.”
As another friend and East Nashvillian, Bethany Burns, put it, “She doesn’t care what you bring to the table, just come to the table.” Take camping, for instance. Doyle loves the outdoors, and about five years ago, her love of camping led her to start an East Nashville community camping group that now holds two kid-friendly campouts each year at nearby state parks, featuring a community potluck (pre-COVID) and hosting upwards of 80 people.
“She’s constantly trying to advocate for children, especially in her practice of family law,” Mayo says. “And she’s always helping the LGBTQ community in her law practice.” In fact, through her small firm, Tennessee Adoption and Family Law, Doyle offers LGBTQ families free legal services for uncontested adoptions. “That directly affects some of our East Nashville community and spills out beyond East Nashville,” Mayo says. “She is making a huge difference in people’s lives every single day, especially with adoptions, but even helping people through a divorce, some very emotional things, and she handles it in a way that makes it less stressful,” Burns says.
Doyle was inspired to start offering free adoption services for families with same-sex parents during the summer of 2016 as she watched the horrific news unfolding of a mass shooting targeting patrons at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. “I said, ‘This is crazy! We have to do something!’ And I thought about my skills, and this is what I could offer the LGBTQ community,” Doyle says. Her work is affirming for families who are marginalized by parental custody laws written only with heterosexual couples in mind.
“Since Obergefell, the Supreme Court case that legalized marriage equality, a lot of same-sex couples think they don’t need [legal adoption], but in my opinion they do. Finalizing the adoption protects your family, protects your kids, protects your rights as a parent. And I do the legal work for free. They just have to pay the filing fee.”
When she moved to Nashville from East Tennessee in 2001, Doyle tended bar at Radio Cafe while working a day job as a probation officer and making plans for law school. “My first real job was working at the juvenile court,” Doyle says. “I worked only with foster kids; they called me a probation officer, but I didn’t have anybody on probation. The people that had been alleged to have done something were the parents. I just loved working with kids and teenagers.”
“I love the diversity of art over here and intellects. I don’t think you necessarily get that everywhere. I’m worried that we are going to lose it because of the housing crisis in Middle Tennessee.”
After completing her law degree at Nashville College of Law, she worked in the public defender’s office and served as guardian ad litem — an attorney who works for the best interests of kids. “I only represented kids in neglect and dependency cases or really contentious custody cases. The thing about juvenile court is they don’t do adoptions. We’d basically do all the hard work and then pass it on to circuit court to do the happy part.”
Doyle decided she wanted to be part of that happy part, and her passion for helping kids led her to found her own firm specializing in family law and adoption. “It’s everything to me to see kids thriving and parents thriving and we’re just walking through the muck that is parenthood together. You go into the trenches with people, and I always think it’s an honor to be invited there.”
And doing adoptions is fun, but not all the time. “Yes, on the day of the adoption it is fun. It’s pictures and balloons and cakes, but people — both the child and the parents — often come to adoption with a lot of trauma, so by the time they get to me, they have gone through things that no one should have to go through,” Doyle explains. “Even if a child is adopted from birth, the experiences they had in their birth mother’s body affect them. People who are trying to adopt have gone through a lot to try to adopt. I always feel like it’s a quarter social worker, a quarter therapist, and half lawyer in the adoption world.”
She is glad to be serving so many East Nashvillians in her practice. Doyle fell in love with the neighborhood as soon as she saw it, but ultimately it came down to the people who make the community special. “I think everybody who moves here from somewhere else moves to East intentionally,” she says. “Many of us are not from East Nashville; we chose it. There’s a lot of autonomy in that.” But she worries rising housing costs will leave East Nashville out of reach for the creatives who provide the neighborhood groove she loved at first vibe. “I love the diversity of art over here and intellects. I don’t think you necessarily get that everywhere. I’m worried that we are going to lose it because of the housing crisis in Middle Tennessee.”
The modesty that Doyle displayed when she first learned that she was East Nashvillian of the Year remains unshakable even after a discussion of the many ways she gives back to her neighborhood. When it was pointed out the award is simply for someone who best symbolizes what being a good East Nashville neighbor means, she replies, “I’m so grateful because that’s all I want to be.”