Teaching Kids the Power of the Law
Sneha Durairaj's After-School Program Wins $10,000 in T-Mobile ‘Changemaker Challenge’
Editor's note: Events and achievements noted in this story predate COVID-19.
Growing up, Sneha Durairaj ’22 would develop arguments for anything from an allowance increase to swim lessons, making her case using her parents’ past comments as “evidence” for her side. She even wrote contracts for them to sign. Today, Durairaj is planning a career in corporate law and determined to help young people use the law to speak up for social causes.
“We’re at a turning point in society with respect to how we choose to better ourselves and the world that we live in,” she says. “We tend to overlook young people in terms of their ability not only to grasp complex concepts but also to be involved in and make a difference for their communities.”
Durairaj has seized the moment to create Legally Ours. The free after-school program introduces middle-school students to the field of law, encourages involvement in community issues and, she says, “empowers them with the important tools of communication, persuasion and career development.”
That mission caught the eye of T-Mobile: Legally Ours won the company’s 2019 Changemaker Challenge and last month earned the competition's $10,000 grand prize. The money will ensure free programming for student participants in Legally Ours. Durairaj’s four-person executive board benefits as well, through guidance and development by senior executives at T-Mobile.
Students in the program choose and research a local issue that is meaningful to them, then write letters to officials using legal reasoning. For example, writing to a state senator condemning immigrant detention centers by citing international human rights law and its implications.
“I’m passionate about social responsibility and advocacy,” says Durairaj, who credits high school history and government classes for pushing her to explore the field of law. “I like to joke that I’m also the most Type A person you could ever meet, and pride myself on organization, analysis, structure and forethought.”
Born in Tamil Nadu, India, Durairaj moved to the United States at age 4 and grew up near Seattle, Wash. At Bentley, she is pursuing a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in Finance with a History minor. She has plans for law school and a career in corporate law, specializing in financial mergers and acquisitions.
“When middle-schoolers gain a little insight into being a lawyer while strengthening their writing, they have access to a unique opportunity,” says Durairaj, who worked as a paralegal at an immigration law firm before stepping down to focus on Legally Ours. “Together, we’ll showcase the power of young people’s civic engagement and help them find their voices through the support of the law.”