Clinic Stories

Building a healthy partnership

Duryea

Joining the Health Justice Law & Policy Clinic this year, Pelfrey Duryea brings with her a breadth of both academic and practice experience, as well as the conviction that the law can be used to bring a measure of justice to underserved individuals and communities.

Danielle Pelfrey Duryea says there was a time in graduate school when she thought of herself as a “library rat,” happiest when she was alone in the stacks. Then she discovered what it was like to stand in front of a class of students. “The opposite proved true,” she says. “I loved teaching.”

Pelfrey Duryea, who joins the Health Justice Law & Policy Clinic this year, brings with her a breadth of both academic and practice experience, as well as the conviction that the law can be used to bring a measure of justice to underserved individuals and communities.

A native of Louisville, Ky., she studied English at Yale and did graduate work in English and cultural studies at the University of Virginia. Her J.D. is from Georgetown University Law Center, where since 2012 she has served as a clinical teaching fellow in the school’s Domestic Violence Clinic.

In between was a five-year stint with the Boston firm Ropes & Gray, where she worked in litigation, mostly for pharmaceutical and medical device companies. But it was a pro bono challenge that would come to define her time in Boston.

An in-house presentation on the possibility of creating a medical-legal partnership – in which lawyers work with medical personnel to remediate living conditions that make people chronically ill – intrigued her. The chief of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center had noticed that children from low-income families would present with asthma attacks time and again; when he investigated, he found that these families were living in substandard housing with mold, rats, insect infestations and other triggers for severe asthma. When he challenged the landlords to fix the problems, they ignored him – until lawyers got involved. 

Pelfrey Duryea and colleague Michele Garvin responded by partnering with a community health care center in Boston’s working-class Dorchester neighborhood and the legal aid provider Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston. When Pelfrey Duryea and Garvin put out an in-house call for volunteers, they were swamped with 100 lawyers and paralegals – about one-quarter of Ropes & Gray’s Boston office. Essentially the project became a firm-within-a-firm, and Pelfrey Duryea helped create and oversee a mentoring and intake structure to handle all those volunteers. She also designed a skills training series and a cultural competency curriculum for associate volunteers.

“It was such a great experience and really a true partnership,” she says. “We created a free legal service, in five practice areas, working with every patient who was referred to us by a clinician. Over four years, we did not turn away a single patient who was referred to us for lack of someone to help them.”

Pelfrey Duryea brings to Buffalo the lessons of that experience as well as Georgetown training in clinical legal education. “I feel very well prepared to talk and think about how to make the lessons of the clinic transferable to the world of practice,” she says. “Buffalo is a whole new community for me. I have a lot to learn about the health of the community, where there are inequities in health across the community and how a medical-legal partnership can address them. Clearly many elder law issues have a profound impact on health. I’m hoping that, over time, we will find many ways to build on the deep tradition of the Elder, Health and Civil Justice Law & Policy Clinic has been doing and invite more collaboration between medical and legal service providers.”

Pelfrey Duryea comes to Buffalo with her husband, Eric Pelfrey Duryea, a lawyer trained at the University of Virginia School of Law.