Alumni Spotlight: Andy McNeil
Andy McNeil started off as a mechanical engineering major at Georgia Tech due to his fascination with cars. However, he struggled to make the grades he wanted and couldn’t find a fulfilling internship, so he decided to switch majors. He was taking a prelaw overview course at the time — offered by the School of Public Policy — and greatly enjoying it.
McNeil decided that he wanted to become a lawyer and considered transferring to a university with a pre-law major. However, Richard Barke, now the director of undergraduate studies in the School of Public Policy, convinced him to stay and become a member of one of the first classes to receive their B.S. in Public Policy. McNeil graduated in 2001 before beginning as a career as an attorney and is now chairperson of BlazeSports America. In 2007, he returned to Georgia Tech to coach the mock trial team in his spare time.
McNeil told us more about his career and work with mock trial.
What are you up to post-graduation? What led you there?
By trade I am a lawyer, and I have done all kinds of things since graduating from Syracuse Law School in 2005. (Thanks, Gordon Kingsley, for convincing me to be an Orange!) Post-law school, I started as a corporate intellectual property attorney at several prominent Atlanta-based firms, then I was a co-founder and general counsel of a multi-line women’s international apparel sales company, and now I am chairperson of a great local non-profit, BlazeSports America. But, most importantly, I have had the privilege and honor of coaching and teaching the mock trial team at Georgia Tech since 2007. So, needless to say, I have thoroughly enjoyed — and learned quite a lot — from my diverse post-graduation endeavors.
What’s your favorite part of your current role?
Coaching and teaching with the Georgia Tech mock trial team is, frankly, the best role I have ever had — a mix between why I wanted to be a lawyer (engaging communications, teamwork, convincing legal arguments) and coaching and mentoring soon-to-be Georgia Tech alumni at a crucial point in their lives. Not to brag, but we finished sixth in our division and 10th overall out of 48 teams at the national championship tournament in Lancaster, Pennsylvania this year! For scale, there are approximately 750 undergraduate college mock trial programs in the country.
How do you think your Georgia Tech public policy education prepared you to succeed?
For me, it provided the tools not only to learn about critical thinking and analytical skills, but it also set the foundation as a lawyer to succeed in a variety of complicated matters. I often give this example to illustrate it: In my corporate attorney days, I was involved in an extremely complex international intellectual property case in eastern Texas where hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake. When this case went to jury trial, we had not only to be correct with our analysis of complicated patent infringement claims; we also had to convey these terms so that the jury would understand, and, ideally, rule in our favor. Out of four clients in this suit, we were the only one found not liable for patent infringement, and I regularly credit the skills I learned as an undergraduate with helping me in situations like this.
What’s something that surprised you about post-graduation life?
Frankly, it was a good surprise — I heard horror stories from fellow law students about how difficult law school was, the practice of law, etc. — but Georgia Tech prepared me for this. It teaches us all how to work hard, study hard, and plan accordingly to have a good work-life balance. It gave me the keys to undergrad, law school, and beyond!
What about your work has made you particularly proud?
How good our mock trial team is! For some background, as a corporate attorney seeking to keep my trial skills fresh, I started coaching high school mock trailers in the Atlanta area in 2006, but then I learned Georgia Tech had a mock trial program! In 2007, I reached out to Kate Wasch, who was the head coach at the time (and who is currently chief counsel at Tech) to assist, then Kate passed the baton on to me, for which I am so very grateful. Teaching, coaching, mentoring, and succeeding with mock trailers at my alma mater is by far the most rewarding professional experience I have ever had. This year is the fifth time in the last six seasons that Georgia Tech Mock Trial has advanced to the national championship, and people are regularly quite surprised at our success, given that we do not have a law school. While approximately half of our students plan to attend law school (and are usually seeking a certificate in pre-law), it does not matter what major one chooses at Tech, as we all succeed!
What’s something you miss about Georgia Tech?
The challenging, rewarding, and constantly developing educational environment. I somewhat feel this every time I’m on campus for mock trial practice, but certainly not the same as being a student!
What’s one piece of advice that you have for students who are graduating soon?
The post-graduation advice I regularly give is to keep in mind that the professional world should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t completely focus on the immediate situation. For example, your first job may not be ideal, but you have it, so you need to benefit from it however you can to prepare for something else. You may not know what you want to ultimately be, but focus on skills to improve or things to try; our work lives are long, so keep in mind who you are “running with” and how you can mutually benefit from the relationship now or in the future.
Can students interested in pursuing a similar field reach out to you?