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Jul 26, 2012

Dattilo plays 'beat the clock'


Mac One Midway counsel doesn't let being on-man team put limits on abilities.

Dattilo plays 'beat the clock'

By Roy Strom (ChicagoLawBulletin.com Staff Writer) on Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

Volume 158, No.146





Matthew Thomas Dattilo

General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, MAC One Midway LLC

  • Headquarters: Chicago.
  • Size: 14 outlets; 300-plus employees.
  • Law department: General counsel only.
  • Age: 28.
  • Law school: University of Tulsa College of Law, 2008.
  • Organizations: Board of advisers, Loyola University Museum of Art; associate board, Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School; and member of the Economic Club of Chicago, Justinian Society of Lawyers, Association of Corporate Counsel, American Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, The Chicago Bar Association and the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.
  • Interests: He enjoys playing golf and is a horse racing enthusiast. He enjoys the culinary arts and seeks to develop a better appreciation for fine art.
  • MAC One Midway counsel doesn't let being one-man team put limits on abilities

    Running a legal department like a village firehouse holds little appeal to Mattbew Thomas Dattilo.

    Rather than putting out legal flare-ups as they appear, Dattilo said he prefers a preventive role that includes hands-on partnerships with his outside counsel and business leaders at MAC One Midway LLC.

    But he faces one crucial challenge - the clock.

    "The only impediment is my time, to be honest," he said. "I can't be everywhere, and since I'm a law department of one, I can only attend to as many things as I can physically attend to."

    MAC One Midway owns and operates 14 restaurants at Chicago Midway International Airport, ranging from licensed restaurants like Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse to its own creations such as Sprigs, a salad shop.

    Whether working on a licensing deal or protecting a new brand's intellectual property, Dattilo said his role demands a close partnership with all of MAC One Midway's business leaders.

    "The most effective in-house lawyer is one who has the trust of his or her business units and is a catalyst for business solutions, not an impediment,' Dattilo said.

    Dattilo joined the company as its first in-house lawyer in 2009. The job also represented his first as a lawyer, he said.

    It can take time for the business side of a company to view its lawyer as a problem solver, but Dattilo said the transition went smoothly. "I was certainly nervous that they would put up roadblocks," he said. "But I'm pleased to say that we have a great senior team here and everybody embraced my new role."

    For instance, Dattilo takes part in developing ideas for new restaurants - the company opened three since he joined - from their very beginning.

    "I'm involved in the planning, the genesis of the meeting,' he said. "The in-house attorney gets to do a lot more of that ... and it's the part of the job that I enjoy the most."

    Like the partnership be formed with MAC One Midway's business heads, Dattilo said he views his work with outside counsel as a collaboration.

    "When you run a one-man legal department, you can't afford not to,' he said. "They are like my associate general counsel. Without them, I would work 14 hours a day, seven days a week."

    Two outside counsel said he does a rather impressive job handling the time constraints facing a one-lawyer legal department.

    Instead of being less responsive, they said he provides less red tape when they need an answer to a fast-moving litigation question or guidance on a tax issue.

    Mark R. Davis, a partner at the boutique tax law firm O'Keefe, Lyons & Hynes LLC, said Dattilo impressed him with the time he took to learn about his obscure tax law practice.

    "It's not always an experience that you have in a specialty practice," Davis said.

    "Matt is willing to (get involved) to the point of reading every pleading that's filed, contributing editing suggestions and coming to court. ... I wish all our work could enjoy collaboration that close."

    And despite working as the only lawyer at his company, Davis said Dattilo proves easier to contact than some of his clients with large legal teams, even ones with specialty tax lawyers.

    Mark W. Bina, an associate at Krieg, De Vault LLP, said Dattilo often fires off e-mail responses at late-night hours.

    "He's kind of nonstop in a sense,' Bina said.

    That nonstop work ethic serves Bina and MAC One Midway well in some of the fast-moving litigation Krieg, De Vault handles for the company, Bina said.

    "You don't have ... the challenges of when you've got 100 lawyers in a legal department and you need to move the ball on a certain issue." Bina said. "When issues crop up, we can just handle them."

    Dattilo said he looks for outside counsel willing to provide alternative fees. He also values a straight-talking attorney as opposed to a "yes-man."

    "I admire an attorney who's willing to recommend a position that is different from my own,' he said. "Having learned from my father and his practice, I respect attorneys who are willing to teach and share with me their valuable experiences."

    Dattilo said he found interest in the law growing up in Louisville, Ky., as the son of a criminal defense attorney.

    Despite their different practices, Dattilo said he still finds value in three traits that his father taught him prove vital for lawyers: Honesty, zealous representation and "not taking any wooden nickels."

    "Don't let anybody pull the wool over your eyes," Dattilo said.

    He received his law degree from University of Tulsa College of Law in 2008. He spent the first semester of his third year at Loyola University Chicago School of Law as a visiting student.

    During his second summer as a law student, he worked as a clerk for the Illinois attorney general in Springfield in the antitrust and consumer fraud units.

    He continued working for the Illinois attorney general in the general law bureau during his semester at Loyola, he said.

    "I hoped to join there permanently after bar passage, but unfortunately the state budget collapsed at that time," he said.

    After a thorough job search, he said be landed his current spot at MAC One Midway.

    "I was offered the opportunity to build a legal function from scratch," he said. "That was part of what attracted me to the company."

    rstrom@lbpc.com