Families in the Law: The Conway Family

Interviewed by: Kenny Matuszewski

Over the years, there have been many influential families in the legal profession in Chicago.  Few have shaped plaintiff personal injury litigation as much as the Conway family.  They are leading lawyers in asbestos/mass tort litigation, personal injury, and medical malpractice.  Kevin, Kate, and Judy Conway have represented plaintiffs with integrity, compassion, and dedication, assuming leadership positions in the profession.  They believe that victims of serious injuries deserve excellent legal representation.  They are also committed to giving back to the legal profession.

Kevin grew up in the Chicagoland area and was the third of seven children.  He knew almost no attorneys when he attended Loyola University Chicago’s (“Loyola”) undergraduate and Law School.    

While a law student, Kevin worked as a law clerk at Cooney & Stenn, a plaintiff’s personal injury firm in Chicago.  He learned from Bob Cooney, Sr. and Irving Stenn, Jr. that the Civil Justice System existed to right wrongs.  Kevin grew to admire trial lawyers and their work on behalf of their clients.  After law school, he was hired as an attorney by Cooney and Stenn.  Kevin later became a partner, when the firm name changed to Cooney and Conway.

In the 1970s, Kevin filed a class action lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages, an extraordinary amount at the time.  The case involved factory workers suffering from mesothelioma.  The class representatives were exposed to asbestos while working at the Johns Manville Plant in Waukegan, Illinois.  When the court denied class certification to the factory workers, Kevin’s firm prosecuted the cases individually.  Cooney and Conway have been representing mesothelioma victims ever since.

Cooney & Conway has grown from 4 attorneys to more than 25 today and employs over 90 people.  They represent mesothelioma victims, plaintiffs in mass tort litigation, as well as individual victims of serious personal injury.  Kevin and his partners, Robert Cooney, William Fahey, John Cooney, and lawyers of the firm represent clients in Chicago and across the country. 

Kevin and Linda Conway have three daughters.  Two daughters, Kate and Judy, have become formidable personal injury/mass tort lawyers.  They are also leaders in the legal profession.

Unlike her father, Kate did not originally plan to attend law school.  Majoring in Psychology at the University of Illinois, Kate intended to pursue social work advocacy.  As an intern at the University’s Counseling Center, she advocated for University-wide access to free counseling and resources for students and faculty struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.  Kate originally applied to graduate schools for clinical psychology.  However, she ultimately changed her mind attending law school and representing plaintiffs in the trial courts.

Always one to do her homework, Kate’s decision to attend law school was made after careful consideration.  She visited classes at Loyola and reviewed its curriculum.  It offered intellectually demanding classes as well as skills courses and internships.  Loyola’s Law School also emphasized trial work and social justice. It soon had a second Conway.

Breaking this tradition, Judy chartered her own course, attending the University of Notre Dame and later the University of Michigan Law School.  At Notre Dame, Judy immersed herself in student government while pursuing a triple major in Political Science, Spanish, and Sociology.  She became off-campus President of the Student Body at ND her senior year.  Intending to enter law school, Judy externed at a legal aid clinic serving low-income clients in South Bend.  She observed firsthand the impact of advocating on behalf of deserving clients. 

Judy attended the University of Michigan Law School, where she encountered a diverse range of intellectually curious students.  She studied a rigorous legal curriculum that centered on thinking like a lawyer, learning the implications of law and policy, and the philosophy behind them.  She also volunteered on nights and weekends as a first year to assist immigrants with legal difficulties.  Then, at a U of M Law Clinic, she advocated on behalf of parents whose parental rights were improperly terminated.  In her third year, Judy wrote appellate briefs for parents whose cases had been mishandled. 

While Judy and Kate attended different schools, they both currently represent plaintiffs in personal injury and mass tort litigation.  Like their father, they love working in a profession where they help right wrongs.

In law school, Kate worked at Power Rogers as a law clerk.  She also taught a class at a middle school in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago while clerking and studying law.  Joe Power and his partners took notice of her commitment and hard work and offered her a position at the firm upon graduation.  Early on, she was given significant responsibility and freedom over her caseload.  Kate soon tried complex and catastrophic cases of medical malpractice and general negligence.

Historically, very few attorneys handling major negligence and medical malpractice cases were women.  However, the number of women practicing in these areas is growing.  Kate hopes to continue this trend by mentoring female law students and young attorneys.

After law school, Judy joined Cooney & Conway, where she represents mesothelioma and mass tort victims.  One of her first clients was Johnny Lattner, a fellow Notre Dame alum, who won the 1953 Heisman Award.  Sadly, Johnny was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  Judy felt incredibly privileged to represent him.  She was able to spend time with the man behind the football legends and accomplishments.  She learned that Johnny was a compassionate and generous human being, who had a great family and many lifelong friends.  Judy continues to represent victims of mesothelioma and mass torts across the country.  As part of her preparation, she spends significant time with her clients.  She litigates on behalf of her clients in several states including Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, and Missouri.

Kevin has also given back to his clients and to the profession.  He and his partners established the Cooney and Conway Chair in Advocacy at Loyola’s Law School.  They also have made significant contributions to medical research seeking a cure for mesothelioma.  Kevin served on the Board of Managers for many years, and eventually became President, of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (“ITLA”).  Recently, Kevin received the Leonard Ring Award from ITLA for his many years of service to the organization.

Kate and Judy have also assumed leadership roles in the legal community.

Kate recently became president of The Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (“WBAI”).  The WBAI’s mission is to promote, foster, advance, and protect women and women attorneys.  It has done so by creating opportunities for leadership, formal mentorship, networking, and legislative advocacy focused on issues pertinent to women.  Kate teaches WBAI members that they will get as much out of the profession as they put into it.  “Opportunities exist at every career stage of an attorney. They exist in the workplace, in bar associations, and in advocacy work outside of the workplace,” Kate says.  She believes that opportunities for young women attorneys will continue to increase and evolve.  Through the WBAI, Kate seeks to give others a chance to grow and develop.  She remembers the people who gave her a chance and now makes similar efforts on behalf of new lawyers.

While her father and sister led established organizations, Judy founded one, the Michigan Law Alumni Club of Chicago.  As an undergraduate, Judy worked at Notre Dame’s alumni association and realized the benefit of a well-organized alumni network.  Judy observed minimal alumni organization for U of M law grads.  Surprisingly, it did not have an organizational presence in Chicago.  During Judy’s third year of law school, while she served as President of the U of M Law School Student Senate, she reached out to the sole Michigan Law Alumni Club in the nation, located in Washington, DC.  Judy then founded the Michigan Law Alumni Club of Chicago with another Chicago based Michigan Law alumnae.  Since its founding in 2014, the Michigan Law Alumni Club of Chicago has grown to nearly 500 members.  Members are of all ages, backgrounds, and practice areas.  

Judy has also taken on an active role within the Illinois State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (“YLD”).  She is currently the Vice Chair and will become Chair of the YLD for the 2021-2022 Bar Year.  Judy knows that the YLD will continue to facilitate a network of colleagues, resources, advice, and opportunities across the state for new and young lawyers.

The Conways love the work that they do.  When they get together for dinner, Kevin, Kate, and Judy often talk about legal issues, clients, and their cases.  There is no question that they share a common interest.

Representing victims of serious injuries is also something they take to heart.  It has allowed them to successfully work together on several major cases.  On one occasion, Kevin and Kate, with Judy’s assistance, were co-counsel in a five-week trial in federal court.  Judy and Kevin subsequently worked together in a two-week federal civil rights trial involving the Code of Silence.  

Recently, Kate has shared a new experience with her father.  She and her husband, Conor, are raising a family of their own.  Commitments to work/life balance are now front and center.  In some ways, they are also complementary.  Kate’s family experiences allow her to empathize more fully with the losses that her clients and their family suffer.  This, in turn, has given Kate an increased appreciation for her own family and their good fortune.  It also keeps her very busy.

Since Kate and Judy began practicing law, Kevin has received many compliments about them.  “I often hear from attorneys and judges that Kate and Judy are excellent attorneys.  I am proudest when I hear that they are excellent advocates as well as great human beings,” Kevin said. 

Former Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas describes Kevin, Kate and Judy well: “Kevin, Kate and Judy Conway serve as models of professionalism and civility. Their lives in the law represent a template for the bar and illustrates the ideals the Illinois Supreme Commission on Professionalism was attempting to foster.”

Kevin J. Conway is a trial lawyer known throughout the United States in mesothelioma, mass torts, toxic torts, wrongful death, and catastrophic injury cases. His trial victories and major settlements for victims have totaled billions of dollars. Kevin has been a guest on national and local television and radio programs and testified at legislative hearings on numerous occasions regarding proposed legislation and its effects on tort victims’ rights.

Representative honors and recognitions Kevin has earned include:

  • Finalist for Trial Lawyer of the Year by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in Washington D.C.
  • Mass Tort Trial Lawyer of the Year and Personal Injury Trial Lawyer of the Year byU. S. News/Best Lawyers in America.
  • Fellow of the International Society of Barristers and Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.  The American College of Trial Lawyers limits its members to ¼ of 1% of Trial Lawyers in the United States.  
  • The Leonard Ring Award, the highest award presented by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
  • One of the Top 10 Personal Injury Attorneys in Illinois in the Leading Lawyers Network.
  • The Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Award, for his dedication, leadership and contributions to society from the Chicago Bar Association.
  • Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Medal of Excellence.

Kevin graduated with both his Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor degrees from Loyola University Chicago. In addition to funding several scholarships at his alma mater, Kevin and his fellow Cooney & Conway partners endowed a Professorial Chair in Advocacy there.  The Chair is known as The Cooney and Conway Chair in Advocacy. 

Kate Conway is a partner with the Chicago law firm Power Rogers LLP, where she represents individuals and their families in personal injury and wrongful death actions, including medical malpractice, premises liability, product liability, automobile, and transportation negligence cases. Kate has tried cases in both State and Federal Court, including a recent medical malpractice case alongside partner Larry Rogers, Jr. that resulted in a $4.6 million verdict. Kate also recently handled a complex medical malpractice case involving a cardiac procedure, which resulted in a recovery of $6.45 million for her client.

Every year since 2014, Kate has been selected as an Illinois Super Lawyers Rising Star, a distinction limited to fewer than 2.5% of the attorneys in Illinois. Similarly, every year since 2015, Kate has been named an Illinois Emerging Lawyer, an honor bestowed on less than 2% of all lawyers licensed in Illinois. In 2019, Kate was named one of the 40 Lawyers Under 40 in the State of Illinois. In 2020, she was named one of the top 10 Emerging Women Lawyers in the State of Illinois.

In May 2020, Kate became the youngest woman to serve as President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. Graduating from Loyola University Chicago School of Law with a Certificate in Advocacy, Kate currently serves as the Vice President of Loyola’s Alumni Board of Governors. 

In her free time, Kate enjoys spending time with her one-year-old son, Elliot, her husband, Conor, and their two rescue dogs, Tucker and Seamus.

Judy joined Cooney & Conway in 2014 as a law clerk and became an associate after passing the Illinois bar exam.  She represents victims of serious personal injury and wrongful death, from the initial client introduction through trial and appeal.  She focuses on representing victims of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos related diseases.

Judith (“Judy”) Conway received her Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School.   While attending Michigan Law, she was elected President of the Law School Student Senate. Judy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame where she completed a triple major in Political Science, Spanish, and Sociology.  In recognition for her service as Off-Campus Student Body President, Secretary of the Junior Class, and President of Breen Phillips Hall, she received Notre Dame’s Outstanding Student Leader Award.

As an attorney, Ms. Conway is active in several bar associations and charitable organizations, serving as a mentor in the Women’s Bar Association, Vice Chair of the ISBA’s Young Lawyers Division, Secretary of the Notre Dame Club of Chicago, and the Board Chair of St. Agnes of Bohemia School, among others.

Judy and her fiancé live in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.  In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling (pre-COVID of course), and walking her dog Rufus to try new coffee shops.

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