It wasn’t long after we reached out to Moira O’Connor, then Director of Operations at Soldier Field, that she switched jobs.
Thomas has a legal background, which is why we sought her out for an interview feature about her experience with sports facilities.
Fortunately for her, that same legal background opened the door to an attorney at law at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, a law firm out of the Midwest. After nine years on the facilities side, the opportunity to practice law with more regularity was too good to pass up.
Nevertheless, we were still interested in what she had learned, given her unique perspective. What follows is her interview.
Question: What were your job responsibilities as Director of Operations at Soldier Field?
Answer: As the Director of Operations at Soldier Field I oversaw: Major events; Capital improvement projects; repair and maintenance; facility services/cleaning services; trades; laborers; building systems; grounds maintenance; and subcontractor contracts. Under our management umbrella at Soldier Field, we also managed specialized sport complexes for the Chicago Park District including (3) indoor ice rinks; indoor and outdoor synthetic turf fields; a gymnastics facility; a youth baseball stadium; and a NCAA/Professional rated Hydraulic indoor track and field facility. I oversaw the operations side of those facilities as well.
Q: How did being a lawyer help you in that role?
A: I did four years of law school at night (graduating from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law in 2017), while working full time for ASM Global. My first role was manager of one of the ice rinks and then two years as the Director of Operations at Soldier Field. From a practical perspective, time management was the most important part of my schedule. Being able to give 100 percent to work and then go to school after work and do the same wouldn’t have been as achievable had I not been able to manage my time correctly.
From a personal perspective, being a younger female in an operations role at an NFL stadium people are quick to discount you and the knowledge you bring into the roll, it provided a level of credibility that I don’t think would have been afforded to me if I was not in law school and then subsequently a lawyer.
Most importantly being a lawyer, and even when I was just a law student, it brings a completely different perspective and way of thinking into a stadium operator space. Risk Management and mitigation is always at the forefront of your mind when addressing certain issues. It also was incredibly helpful to have a legal writing background when it came to documentation for the stadium and policy writing- having my law degree played a major role in Soldier Field being able to successfully apply for Safety Act Certification/Designation “in-house”, something that was unheard of at the time.
Q: What were the most pressing legal or risk management issues the last few years?
A: Not to state the obvious, but Covid was the biggest risk management/mitigation issue faced the past couple of years. Whether it was writing the protocols for cleaning, stadium entry for staff during quarantine as the stadium still needed to be maintained, to working hand in hand with the team and concessions to plan for a safe stadium re-opening for fans to return. I think any stadium operator at the time can attest that the landscape changed by the day leading up to and during the past couple of seasons regarding protocols. Having my legal background, I was able to not only help write the plans from a legal and operational perspective, but also oversaw the compliance. Having a plan is only as good as its implementation and being able to oversee both sides was directly correlated to my background.
Q: Why did you leave to join a firm?
A: Strangely enough, outside of not working football on Sundays, my day-to-day job with the law firm feels really familiar to me. I do Safety Act applications, minority/women owned business certifications and all of the auditing/compliance that comes with that throughout the country and government relations/strategies. For me I felt if I ever wanted to come back into the sports world or stadium operations world I want to come back and make an impact and really have a seat at whatever table it may be in the future. I felt that at the end of the day, in order to do return I would need to lean more into my legal side and gain that experience to really round out my skill set.