Millions of people were captivated by the murder mystery involving Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee after Rabia Chaudry, JD ’00, took the case to NPR and the hit podcast Serial was born.
Syed, who was convicted of murdering his high school ex-girlfriend, Lee, was sentenced to life in prison. Chaudry, a family friend, has been advocating for his innocence for two decades. In March, she brought the story back to the national stage with the HBO documentary series, The Case against Adnan Syed. Chaudry was an executive producer and also appeared in the show.
“Serial was good storytelling, but it wasn’t an investigative look in the way a lawyer does an investigation,” says Chaudry. That’s why she took matters back into her own hands.
In 2015, Chaudry partnered with two other lawyers, and they started their own podcast that went viral: Undisclosed, which looks at possible wrongful conviction cases, including that of Syed. She also wrote a New York Times bestseller, Adnan’s Story, which became the basis for the HBO series.
“The great thing about Undisclosed [and my other advocacy work] is that I’m not just trying to help a wrongfully convicted person get out of prison,” Chaudry says. “We’re trying to show communities of people who have very little understanding and exposure to the criminal justice system what’s actually happening on the inside.”
Though Syed is still behind bars and the Maryland Court of Appeals denied him a new trial in April, Chaudry’s advocacy has encouraged others to take another look at the criminal justice system.
She credits her time at Mason, particularly her first-year constitutional law class, for helping cultivate her strategic thinking.
“[My professor] employed the Socratic method, and he taught me to think differently,” says Chaudry, who was originally a premedical student but switched to law after taking a stab at the LSAT and scoring in one of the highest percentiles. “When you come from a science background, it’s mostly rote memorization. With the Socratic method, you have to really think about what’s at the foundation of that answer.”
During her time at Mason, Chaudry also interned at a local immigration firm. “I worked for the first year on only asylum cases and appeal work and I loved it.”
Chaudry practiced immigration and civil rights law for more than a decade. Last year, she helped her local community by doing legal asylum work, and she has been actively involved in interfaith work.
“My work seems really diverse, when people look at it on paper, but it’s not really,” she says. “The common thread is I believe in building bridges and meeting people where they are.”
“What I want people to take away is that you don’t know unless you’re in somebody’s shoes, so walk that mile, give people a chance. I feel that’s the case whether you talk about different religious communities, ethnic communities, social classes—everything is so polarized right now, and I’m hoping that my work helps to counter a little bit of it.”