Making a positive impact on the community can take many different forms – whether it’s volunteering at a limited-scope legal clinic, serving on the board of a legal services organization, or even founding a non-profit to provide assistance in another country. VLJ volunteer and BASF attorney Sneha Desai has done it all.
Sneha attended Villanova University for her undergraduate degree, followed by University of Pennsylvania Law School. After law school, she clerked for the Honorable Justice James H. Coleman, Jr., on the New Jersey Supreme Court. Sneha then worked at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP in New York City, where she handled complex commercial litigation as well as trademark and copyright matters.
In January 2008, Sneha joined BASF Corporation in Florham Park, NJ. She serves as Deputy General Counsel, managing the company’s litigation portfolio in North America for everything from product liability claims to antitrust matters to breach of contract lawsuits.
Pro bono work has been important to Sneha ever since law school, where she volunteered in the Guild Food Stamp Clinic. While at Patterson Belknap, a firm that strongly encouraged its attorneys to do pro bono work, she worked for several years on a case representing a group of intellectually disabled men who had been taken advantage of by a home healthcare provider into having unnecessary prostate surgery.
Sneha learned about VLJ in 2016 after BASF’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Matt Lepore, joined VLJ’s board. That summer, Sneha participated in a training for attorneys interested in VLJ’s Divorce Clinic; she has been a regular volunteer ever since. “The legal process to get a divorce can be really overwhelming to lay people – even to lawyers who understand the jargon and forms,” said Sneha. “What I like about the clinic is it’s a simple way to provide assistance by sitting down, talking to someone, and helping them through a complicated process. The clients are always so grateful that someone is willing to spend the time to explain things to them in a way they can understand.”
This June, Sneha accepted a position on VLJ’s board. “I think the ultimate core mission of VLJ is really important, and I wanted to be as involved in that as I could be,” said Sneha.
“Sneha is an amazingly dedicated attorney who truly cares about issues impacting low-income communities,” said VLJ’s Executive Director, Cathy Keenan. “Despite having a lot on her plate, she has been committed to volunteering at the Divorce Clinic, and we are thrilled to have her now join our board.”
It’s a role with which Sneha is already familiar: she serves on the board of a non-profit, Ayati, that she founded with three other women in 2014. Ayati’s mission is to develop and support programs that bring education and materials to promote optimal hygienic practices to girls in rural parts of India. “In India, young girls don’t have access to the kinds of things that we take for granted here,” explained Sneha. “And there is a lot of negativity surrounding a woman getting her period; it’s very taboo still. Girls end up missing school when they have their periods, falling behind, and ultimately dropping out. We started our non-profit to try to change that, one girl at a time.”
“Being able to be on the board of a non-profit and to influence its vision and mission is really powerful,” said Sneha. “When the opportunity came to serve on the board of VLJ, I was very interested.”
Sneha fully supports VLJ’s mission to connect low-income clients with pro bono attorneys. “I believe all lawyers have an obligation to use their knowledge and skills to help those who do not otherwise have access to legal services,” said Sneha. “We have the ability to make a real difference in someone’s life by giving our time and expertise. As professionals, it should be our duty to serve our communities when we can and how best we can.”