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Pro Bono: Tara A. Nealey

Polsinelli

Tara Nealey followed an unlikely path to become a shareholder at one of Missouri’s largest law firms.

Nealey graduated from Brown University in 1984 with a degree in biomedical ethics. After earning her Ph.D. in physiology and winning the Bartlett Prize in neuroscience at the University of Rochester, Nealey said she anticipated she would forge a career in the world in which she began her professional life.nealey-tara

While performing post-doctoral work focused on retinal research in Massachusetts, however, Nealey watched colleagues, teachers and her husband struggle to obtain funding for their work. She realized then that a career in science might not include the promise of a stable future.

Nealey says she began to actively explore a career in patent law in 1994. Her father-in-law, a patent attorney, told Nealey of the growing need for attorneys with a background in engineering and science.

And so she switched paths, drawing on her previous expertise to help her develop her legal practice. Nealey served as a paraprofessional, a patent clerk, while attending law school at Saint Louis University School of Law, where she graduated in 2001.

To Nealey, the transition from science to law was a logical one, as she said she finds the two fields to be quite similar.

“The law is very analytical, and science is very analytical,” she said.

After graduating from law school, Nealey worked for Amstrong Teasdale before moving on to Polster Lieder and later Sonnenschein, now Dentons. In 2006 she co-founded the boutique firm Biotactica before joining Polsinelli in its St. Louis office in 2008.

She now serves as vice chair of the Science and Technology practice group at Polsinelli, focusing on clients with intellectual property questions related to life-science technologies.

Outside of the office, though, her life has diverged from scientific pursuits. From 2004 to 2007 she handled cases pro bono in St. Louis for CASA and Legal Advocates for Abused Women, helping women and families who sought protection. From 2008 to 2013 she served on the Creve Coeur City Council, where she drew on her experiences as an attorney to help the counsel move forward through contentious issues.

After leaving local government, Nealey began working with Prison Performing Arts, a nearly 30-year-old organization that, with public and private funding, works with the Missouri Department of Corrections to provide a literary and performing-arts program for incarcerated adults. Nealey serves as president of its board, and she said she hopes to see it grow.

Nealey also has been an advocate for women in the legal field. For the past five years, she’s been the regional liaison in St. Louis for Polsinelli’s National Women’s Initiative Committee, and her work was key to Polsinelli’s successful effort to obtain gold-standard certification from the Women in Law Empowerment Forum.

There are days when Nealey admits she’d be “happier shut up in my office,” but she said she’s committed to finding time to do the things that matter to her and her community.

“We all have the capacity to do more than we think we can,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Nealey’s graduation date and the status of PPA’s teen program. We regret the errors.

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