And whereas he certainly isn’t alone in his fervor, most students point to the frenetic energy of Blue Devil basketball in Cameron Stadium or the quiet peace of Duke Chapel as the source of their undying devotion. But Leal talks instead about the people he’s met — primarily the professors and administrators that he has come to call friends during his time at Duke as both an undergraduate and law student.
“I always wanted to come to Duke Law School,” says Leal, a 2007 magna cum laude graduate of Duke University who began his law school education at the University of Miami School of Law. He says he still has his rejection letter from his first attempt at admittance to Duke Law.
“When I was in Miami, I missed the school,” continues the self-indentified Cuban who says his family lives in ‘American Airlines,’ with homes in Puerto Rico and Miami. “I love Duke and just wanted to graduate again from my alma mater.”
To be admitted as a transfer student, Leal enlisted the help of professors and administrators to whom he became close during his undergraduate career. “When I first met Ebony Bryant from the Admissions Office, she said, ‘Oh, you’re Eddy Leal, the famous one,’” he says laughing at the impression he made by having the former chair of the economics department and the university marshal hand deliver their letters of recommendation.
Those two men, along with the associate dean of Duke’s Trinity College and the Law School’s Dean David Levi and Professors Lawrence Baxter, Bill Brown, and James Cox were all in attendance when Leal earned his fourth degree black belt in taekwondo under Grandmaster Jun Lee last summer. “I was really honored to have them there,” he says, noting that it gave him the opportunity to share a very important part of his life with those he considers his mentors and friends. “After the testing I had to give a speech and I was able to tell them, ‘When you look at my resume, it has a lot of stuff on it, and there is one line at the bottom that says ‘taekwondo, tested fourth degree black belt.’ But that one line makes everything else possible.’”
Leal has been taking taekwondo lessons since he was six years old and continues to be involved with the Duke Taekwondo Club he started as an undergraduate. He even credits a taekwondo analogy with his decision to attend law school.
“My dad told me to go to law school,” he says. “He said, ‘You have a black belt in taekwondo. Soon you will be a fourth degree, so when you go somewhere, people will respect you — you’ll be a master. Getting your black belt in the real world is being a lawyer. You can help people, advise people, and do all sorts of things. You’ll have that power.’”
In addition to his taekwondo commitments, Leal also is a member of the Transfer Students Association and the Hispanic Law Students Association at Duke Law. With the Transfer Students Association, he says he has tried to implement ways to make what seems like a daunting process easier for those attempting it. “[Trying to transfer in] is a humbling experience,” he says. “You realize how many people are trying to enter this school and be in your shoes.”
That realization gives him a daily dose of perspective, he says. “I tell myself, ‘You are here and you have to make the most out of it.’”
Leal says that he believes the Duke Law Blueprint to LEAD sets Duke Law apart from other schools. “The Blueprint permeates how people interact in the school and makes us unique in terms of a community,” he says. “Law school can be a very competitive environment, but when you have this code of values, it makes us special.
“We really do engage, embody, lead, build, serve, practice, and live,” he continues. “It is a very collegial and nurturing environment. You won’t be treated like a number.”
And though Leal’s time at Duke is nearing an end, he is reluctant to talk about leaving. “I don’t think I’m leaving. I’ll just be less here,” he says adding quickly that the offer he accepted from the Charlotte, N.C. office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice puts him a relatively short drive away from campus.
He even jokes about pursuing another graduate degree just to stay on campus a few more years.
“What I’d like to do is just really enjoy the time that I have left,” he says. “And, fingers-crossed, soon I’ll have my second Duke degree.”