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Inspired by the successful track and field athletes in his family, Terrence Neal PPS '15 came to Duke to compete on the university’s track and field team, which he did all four years. He also envisioned a slightly different path while at Duke.

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Terrence Neal PPS'15

He wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and enrolled as a pre-med student. But after taking chemistry his freshman year, Neal decided pre-med wasn’t the right path for him after all. As someone who always liked reading and writing, enjoyed math, and had an interest in politics and government, Neal turned to Public Policy Studies and found he really enjoyed the classes.

“I appreciated developing a strong set of critical thinking, analytical writing, and quantitative skills that I could apply to real-world issues,” he says.

He remembers completing a group report in a course on economic development about the effect of agri-environmental policies on economic growth in South America, and realizing how much he enjoyed applying his public policy skills.

When it came time for his internship required for the Public Policy Studies major, Neal again saw a different path for himself. While most of his peers were focused on an internship in D.C., Neal was drawn to California. He was curious about what a law career might look like and landed an internship in San Francisco at Earthjustice, a leading public interest environmental law organization, through the Duke Stanback Fellowship Program.

Neal credits his Earthjustice internship and his experience in the Duke in Geneva program, where he took courses on international commerce and the political philosophy of globalization, as two of the most impactful forces on his career path.

“Going to Geneva was my first time out of the U.S.,” he says. “Geneva is a hub for many international institutions, including United Nations agencies, and I had the opportunity to visit many of those different institutions. Just being in that environment got me thinking about the possibilities of working in an international context.”

After he graduated from Duke with a major in Public Policy Studies and a certificate in environmental policy, Neal earned his law degree from Harvard Law School in 2019. While there, he served as the managing editor of the Harvard Environmental Law Review.

From Public Policy to Law

During law school, Neal began to build expertise in international law. He interned in Paris, D.C., and Edinburgh, Scotland, at various international organizations and law firms, working on public international and international economic law matters. He also conducted independent research on the environmental implications of China-Africa infrastructure finance agreements that link loan repayment obligations to the exploitation of African natural resources, the findings of which have been published as a report by the Duke Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.         

Since graduating from Harvard Law and passing the D.C. bar exam, Neal has maintained an interest in international law. One of his most memorable projects early in his career was the opportunity to advise a civil society organization engaged in a country’s constitutional reform process on how certain constitutional provisions could be modified to better comport with international human rights law and international standards on security sector oversight and accountability.

“The work was really fulfilling and intellectually stimulating,” he says. “It’s rare that people get to be involved at all in a constitutional reform process, so I’m privileged to have made a small contribution.”

Neal also fondly remembers the 10-month judicial fellowship at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, that he finished in June. There, he served as a junior legal advisor to the president of the court, working on interstate disputes involving allegations of genocide and other violations of international law.         

Neal recently started a new position as an attorney-adviser in the International Environmental Law Practice Group of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Given his interest in working to find solutions to real-world challenges, which dates back to his time as a public policy student at Duke, he is excited about joining the EPA.     

“International law is an important tool for solving some of today’s greatest challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, and I look forward to contributing to EPA’s work to address such issues,” Neal says.

Advice to students

Although it may be tempting to follow the well-beaten Duke career paths of consulting, sales or investment banking, Neal advises students not to concentrate so much on holding a “prestigious” job, but rather to follow interests and passions and to prioritize mental wellbeing. For instance, Neal enjoyed learning languages and took French classes during his time at Duke, and he credits those courses for making him a convincing candidate for his legal internship in Paris, his judicial fellowship at the ICJ, and his semester exchange program at Sciences Po Law School.

Neal also encourages students to research and investigate opportunities to ensure they align with their goals and interests. He says: “Don’t make assumptions. Seek out knowledge and make informed decisions.”

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