Top Lawyers: Joseph Hylak-Reinholtz On The 5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law
Passion. If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, you won’t enjoy your work, and you will have a harder time being successful.
As part of our interview series called “The 5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Hylak-Reinholtz.
Joseph Hylak-Reinholtz is a healthcare attorney based in Chicago with extensive experience in regulatory, transactional, real estate, business law, and general matters affecting healthcare providers. His clients include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and independent diagnostic testing facilities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
I’ve always felt conscientious about injustices in the world. Of course I’ve had losses, but the victories have been meaningful — they’ve provided hope for those in need of it. I knew I had to do something I wanted to believe in. I needed to fight for a justifiable cause. Today, I am a health care attorney working with a healthcare investor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who believes in smart investments in communities that are underserved. He believes that quality health care is a right, and everyone should have access to affordable health care. It’s a mission I’ve signed on board with, and I’m happy to be part of it.
My practice focuses on regulatory compliance and transactions matters. Counseling clients on business startups and joint ventures in the health care space. Previously, I worked for more than a decade in Illinois government, working first for the Speaker of the Illinois House of representatives and later for the Governor. In that later role, I led an effort to restructure the state’s prescription drug program when Medicaid Part D became law. In between those jobs, I worked as a lobbyist for a long-term care that represented mostly downstate facilities, many which were the largest employer in their local community. This was all before I became a lawyer.
Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Strong work ethic, leadership, and open mindedness.
I believe that you need a strong work ethic to be successful. I grew up in a modest, blue-collar family, and this helped shape my outlook on work. I went to state school so that I could pay for law school, because I didn’t want to graduate with six figures worth of debt. I had people tell me I couldn’t get to law school based on my first LSAT. Once I got in, I was motivated to work hard and prove them wrong. And I did. I graduated with honors, made Law Review, won the school moot court competition, and advanced to nationals. I was driven to be the best I could be. If someone tells you that you can’t do something, but you’re motivated and hardworking enough, you can overcome and succeed.
Being a compassionate leader is important. At some point, you’ll have to guide associates and other people you work with, and you will want them to believe in you, to follow you even in the line of fire. You can’t create a hostile work environment. I’ve worked for people like this. It’s not helpful in the cause and can actually have a negative effect on productivity. In the legal field, it’s important to understand and respect the different generations and how they think and like to work, like Gen X and Millennials, who work differently and have their own style.
Being open minded is helpful, because you can’t always think you’re right. When the Supreme Court returns 5–4 decision, that shows that very smart people can have different opinions on the law. Just because I’ve come to a certain conclusion, it doesn’t mean that there is a perfectly acceptable alternative view of the law. So, even if I am working with a first-year associate just out of law school, I’ll listen to what they have to say. Younger people with less legal experience can still make cogent arguments and have changed my mind, successfully arguing that their course of action would be better.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t believe in luck. Luck is for lottery players. It is not something you should rely on in your legal career. Work hard, be smart. When I say smart, I mean book smart and street smart, which are both vital skills to being a successful attorney. You need to know the law to provide good advice to your clients. But sometimes the law is unclear, and you must find a way to work through the issue to help your client achieve their goal without putting them into legal jeopardy. Sometimes it is not a legal decision, perhaps it comes down to being a moral decision or a business decision but not a legal one. A great lawyer can help their client consider all of the angles.
Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?
That’s an answer I can give two ways. In my personal case, because of my prior experience in government, where I reviewed, drafted, and even wrote laws for over ten years, I decided that in pursuing a legal career, I would rely on my work experience first, rather than focus on where I went to law school. However, I also knew I couldn’t be an average student at a state school and needed to excel and set myself apart from my peers. I did so by winning competitions, getting on law review, and achieving high grades. The answer, however, for aspiring law students who do not have such prior experience, I would say yes, that it is important where you go to law school, especially if you want to get a job at a top law firm. Many firms have hiring systems that eliminate anyone not on a short list of top tier schools. That said, no matter what law school you get into, whether it’s a state school or a well-known Ivy League school, you need to perform to your highest standards and work hard toward your goals.
Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?
Good communication and writing skills are important for a lawyer. So much of what goes into practicing good law is in written briefs, or in written memorandums, and if you can’t convey what you want to say in writing, then you’re missing a critical point. I realized that writing was a weakness early on in my career. A senior partner was an English major at Harvard, and she tore apart a memo that I had written. Instead of being hurt by it, I thought about it and decided that she was right, my writing was not where it needed to be. I hired a private tutor who helped me write better and clearer. Years later, she told me I sent her one of the most well written memos she’s ever read. And I thanked her for being critical of me to help me identify that area of improvement.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work you do?
My primary motivation is to do something that I believe in, to accomplish a greater goal. For example, increasing access to health care for every person has always been a passion of mine, a core belief, and I’m blessed to be doing that work today. For me, the time I spend away from my family needs to be about achieving something that will make a positive impact in the world. I feel that the work I am doing today is achieving that goal.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on a project in Stuart, Virginia to reopen a hospital that was closed five years ago, which will bring critically-needed, high-quality health care to a community who have had to travel dozens of miles, often an hour or more drive, to get access to healthcare services. The community members have a major need for access to modern care at affordable rates. Just because you live in rural America doesn’t mean you should be a second-class citizen for advanced health care. It should be on the same level as what individuals can receive in bigger cities. We work with hospitals in underserved communities, not billion-dollar corporations. These are hospitals that live on the margins and need smart people to help them achieve success. This is the kind of work that motivates me.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
The next chapter is this chapter. I have no plans to retire, and I can’t sit still. I hope that I am blessed to continue doing this exact work for many years.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
I had a Muslim client who wanted to deliver health care to a growing Arab American and Muslim-American population. His goal was to establish an outpatient surgery center that operated under Shariah Law. I suspected that the project was a long shot, but with my client’s consent, we moved forward with a CON permit application. We were defeated unanimously at the first hearing. Listening and responding to the concerns of the CON board members, we removed all references to Shariah Law, reduced the project’s cost and size, and made other adjustments to make our proposal more in line with more traditional surgery center proposals, but retained some of the concepts that offered unique features for Muslims, such as areas for prayer and ritual washing, and employ professionals who speak both Arabic and English. The project, which was previously voted down unanimously, was subsequently approved with only one board member voting no on the project.
Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate?
During COVID-19, we had to shift a lot of law practice to remote working. We had no choice before the vaccines came out to stay safe. You must respond to the cards dealt to you. But now that it’s safer to return to the office, remote workers need to take an honest self-assessment to determine their self-motivation and ability to filter out distraction. Some people can and others can’t. Be honest with yourself when deciding which setting is best for your style. I need to be in the office to perform at my best, so I have returned to the office at least three days a week. But, offices should encourage safe behavior such as masking and getting vaccinated.
For aspiring lawyers, personal one-on-one interaction is essential. When you’re starting out in your career, you need that time with senior lawyers or mentors to really learn how to practice law, because it is nothing that you were taught in school. If you’re an associate looking for work, being in the office can help, being at home is a hindrance. Being where you can learn from the people firsthand is very important.
What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?
I have friends who work well from home. It’s a challenge for me. I can be at home trying to work, and I can see my guitar sitting in the corner. It’s speaking to me, “play me, play me, play me,” so it’s hard to stay on task, which is why I choose to work in the office.
How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?
For the reasons I mentioned above, I think we’ll find ourselves shifting back to an office environment. To be successful, to be noticed by senior associates and partners, you need to have that in-person interaction with those individuals. I firmly believe that you can accomplish a lot more while in the same room.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
Social media can be a very important tool for both new and aspiring attorneys and accomplished partners too. To be successful in a law career, you need to be viewed by your peers and potential clients as the expert in your field. By writing articles, giving speeches, and sharing that information across social media, you can help position your brand in front of the right audiences. You need to have a constant presence, do it frequently, and stay fresh and relevant. These can be important platforms for client development and retention. I also believe it is important for attorneys to change their style of practice when new technologies become available.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Passion. If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, you won’t enjoy your work, and you will have a harder time being successful.
- Great communication skills. If you cannot convey in words and write your opinion or view, you’re failing. You’re not achieving the goal for you and your client.
- Continuing your knowledge of law. You need to keep up with the latest developments. You must read the regulations and statues as they change. As a young attorney, I quoted something to a CEO of a company. I didn’t double check the regulation before this meeting, and it had just recently changed. If you regularly follow developments, you won’t find yourself making a bad assumption.
- Confidence. If you don’t convey confidence, people won’t believe you. In negotiations with another party or convincing a client your strategy is the right way to go. If you’re timid or pausing and giving an impression you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re not going to succeed.
- Good judgment. You need to know when you’re making the right decision and convincing your client that it’s the best legal step for them, even if they initially do not want to do that.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this.
I would love to meet Mark Cuban. Here’s a man who grew up in a modest household and achieved great success. Not only has he achieved great success, but he hasn’t forgotten where he has come from. He is incredibly philanthropic. I’d ask him a couple things. First, I’d ask how does he find a work life balance with all of the projects he’s involved in? I’d also ask him, what are the three things you do every day, and what are the three things you try to avoid each day to work efficiently and continue to make yourself successful?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!