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How do you go from herding cattle to becoming a personal injury litigator at one of America’s top corporate firms?
For Amy Conley, now corporate litigation counsel at DISH Network, one of the country’s biggest satellite TV providers, the path to success wasn’t exactly straight. It was, however, colorful, enriching, and the reflection of great networking, encouraging mentors, and a lot of hard work.
Conley’s story begins on her family’s 60,000-acre cattle ranch in the middle of rural South Dakota. Growing up there, she says, was reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie. Up until fifth grade, she attended a one-room schoolhouse, branded Herefords, butchered chickens, and grew veggies. At one point, faced with shucking a whole truckload of sweet corn, she came up with a motto that’s guided her life ever since: “Just get it done.”
Conley went on to earn an English degree; while she had no desire to be a teacher, she believed that “everyone needs someone who can read and write.” She briefly considered going to law school after that but chose paralegal school instead.
Postgraduation, a variety of paralegal positions—from interning with famed Colorado dog lawyer Linda Cawley to working for an immigration firm—gave Conley a more intimate understanding of the law. While raising her first two children, she spent the wee hours of the night transcribing heart-wrenching testimonies from asylum refugees (which would later inform her pro bono work).
In 2004, one of the firm’s bigger clients, DISH Network, called her to a position there. With just one day of training, she dove into the three-person litigation group, processing a hundred subpoenas a month, plus all the small claims and assisting the litigation attorneys with the wide variety of caseloads. Practically on her own, she gathered evidence, prepped witnesses, and prepared regional managers for small claims trials throughout the country.
As she helped grow the department, she gained a variety of experience in litigation from small claims to class actions. Around 2012, her general counsel commented: “You’re doing better work than a lot of young associates. It’s too bad you can’t be an attorney with your background.” Conley quipped back, “Can’t you just make me one!?”
Though her colleagues kept encouraging her, applying to law school was not easy for Conley: she was managing a full-time caseload at DISH, raising five children, and volunteering at various organizations. She procrastinated on applying; then a Colorado snowstorm nearly deterred her on the day of the LSAT. But she made it through the exam and earned a spot on the waitlist at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. After her general counsel made an important call, she started the following Monday.
She attended school at night, keeping her position at DISH. In later semesters, she gave herself a little break by transferring to TTEC, a global customer experience technology and services company with a lighter caseload—but she was still working, raising a family, and doing volunteer work the entire time she was in school.
“I cut out a lot of distractions,” Conley explains with a laugh. She gives credit to her family and the extended family of her church community, and says that instead of driving to class, she would take the train so she could study for an extra twenty minutes. She carried her outlines to her kids’ sporting events and forwent TV altogether.
“Whether I had five minutes or an hour, I tried to say yes to what was most important and let other things go,” she says. “Law school taught me you can always do more than you assume. Once I was done, I realized how much time I had on my hands.”
“I knew the business at DISH and the process. But I had to gain the inner confidence that I was now the final decision-maker on my cases.”
Then, a few months before she took the bar in 2018, DISH called again. Returning to a company where she had once been a paralegal seemed daunting, despite the fact that the DISH litigation team knew and respected her work.
“I knew the business at DISH and the litigation process, but I had to gain the inner confidence that I was now the final decision-maker on my cases,” she says. “My colleagues were always here to advise me, but with each decision, I got more confident about litigation strategy and instructing outside counsel. And I still learn every day.”
Today, Conley handles all tort litigation involving personal injury and property damage for the company; DISH has many vans out on the road doing installations, which means that inevitably there will be accidents. “A lot of times, liability situations are clear-cut,” she explains. “If we did something wrong, we try to settle it reasonably. If not, we are not afraid to go to trial. We have almost nine million customers and we don’t want to set precedents.”
Still, some cases stick with her. Conley remembers one head-on collision in which a young woman passed away at the scene. “It’s so hard to put values on those kinds of cases,” she says. “Our entire department felt empathy. It’s difficult when you know the only thing you have to offer is money.”
Conley’s deep connection to the plight of others has kept her devoted to her work for Alight, a nonprofit she began working for during law school that connects human trafficking survivors with pro bono counsel through an app. Presently, Conley is also exploring how she might be able to serve a local homeless coalition. Building a sphere of influence through networking and relationship-building is very important to her.
“I have a strong faith and believe there are ways to live out my faith in everyday life,” she says. “Many attorneys go into practicing law wanting to change the world, but then they discover they have to pay bills. When they get to pick up pro bono work that truly changes somebody’s life, they feel, just like I have, that they’ve become part of the bigger solution.”
The practice of law has illuminated something else for Conley, and it’s a life lesson she has passed on to her family.
“I teach my kids there are always two sides to any story and that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle,” she says. “But that’s what I love about the law. It’s not about maneuvering the truth. There is a lot of gray, and as an attorney, you’ve got to be willing to play in the gray.”
Mozley, Finlayson & Loggins LLP:
“Amy is a resourceful and decisive litigation partner with a sharp eye for detail in each case. She brings common sense to every decision and will stand her ground. Amy is a true professional.”
–John L. McKinley, Jr., Partner