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A native of Harrisonburg, Virginia, Harold Hopkins Neff received a B.S., M.A., and LL.B. from the University of Virginia. From 1912-13, he also studied at the universities of Berlin, Marburg, and Caen. After being admitted to the New York Bar in 1912, he served as a second lieutenant in the Army Tank Corp from 1917-19. He then practiced law in New York City before joining the faculty of the UVA Law School. He taught such subjects as international law, public corporations, conflict of laws, draughting, and practice of law. He left the faculty to return to his law practice, where he served in several governmental positions, such as special advisor to the State Department, director of the Export-Import Bank, assistant general counsel of the SEC, and member of the National Munitions Control Board. In 1946, he received the Exceptional Civilian Services Award.