Joseph Schohl is the Chief Legal Officer at Radiology Partners, Inc. Sharon Flanagan recently sat down with Joe to discuss the value of “deep work,” what he's learned from building a legal team from the ground up, and the importance of learning to lead.
Sharon Flanagan: What originally led you to Sidley and how did you transition to your current position?
Joe Schohl: I joined Sidley in 1995. They had, and still have, a great team culture where the clients are more important than the individual attorneys, and their level of professionalism is unmatched. Sidley introduced me to the idea of working for healthcare clients, and I’ve gone from one healthcare business to the next, including Baxter and DaVita. When I was working at GeneralCounselWest, we focused exclusively on healthcare clients. I am now Chief Legal Officer at Radiology Partners, a physician practice with more than 1,500 radiologists. I have supported them since their inception in 2013, and joined them full-time two years ago.
Sharon: What is your typical workday like?
Joe: I try to bookend my day with an undistracted work block in the morning and another at the end of the day. This allows me to get the work done that I commit to in meetings and phone calls. These deep works blocks are based on Cal Newport’s ideas in “Deep Work”. My day also includes a workout in the morning — before others get control of my schedule. At the end of the day, I place a high priority on being home for dinner with my family.
Sharon: What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in scaling up a legal function?
Joe: It’s been gratifying to see the team grow and develop. The best lesson I’ve learned is when you’re stretched for resources and you’re trying to keep up with the growth, it’s better to space out your hiring and make sure that you have time to properly onboard and train. That requires a lot of discipline. Often the team is appropriately advocating for more resources. However, if you quickly change the percentage of people in your department overnight you can lose control over the culture and how to get the work done in the most efficient manner.
Sharon: You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about leadership, including from the business side. What can lawyers do to become better leaders?
Joe: Pay attention to leadership. The more senior you get, the more time you spend on leadership and the less time you spend practicing law. When it comes to leadership, seek out formal training. Read as much as you can on the subject. Use trial and error to determine what works. Don’t limit yourself to your own experience in figuring out how you want to lead. There’s really nothing more valuable than feedback. I highly recommend leaders work with a coach that they trust.
Sharon: What are some of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on with Radiology Partners?
Joe: This past summer we took on a new private equity investor. We’ve had New Enterprise Associates (NEA) as our primary investor since the beginning of the practice and this summer we added another investor alongside them, Starr Investment Holdings. That was an exciting project because we had the opportunity to showcase the work that we had done to get to this point and reflect on past successes. It allowed us a moment to paint a vision for the future and showed us why it is an exciting time to bring a new investor onboard.
Sharon: What’s been the biggest surprise about your role?
Joe: The relentless pace of the growth. Often growth comes so fast that we don’t always get a chance to achieve the level of excellence that we want before new inputs come in. I thought that we couldn’t possibly continue at this pace, but we have not reached any pause in the two years that I have been full-time, nor do I see one coming on the horizon. We are not going to pull the train into the station and get everything the way we want it to be. We’re going to have to figure it out while the train is moving down the tracks.
Sharon: You’ve been entrepreneurial in your career in a way that many lawyers haven’t been. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to start your own general counsel outsourced practice?
Joe: I saw that there was a gap between inside counsel and traditional outside counsel. I thought that it would be fun to help fill that gap, to function as if we were inside counsel. I enjoyed working for multiple healthcare clients at the same time. You could see how different companies were approaching the same problems and which way of doing things was more successful than others. It allowed me to help clients select the best solutions for the issues they were facing.
Sharon: How did working in private practice prepare you for your role as General Counsel?
Joe: At Sidley it was all about client service. I don’t think it’s any different when you’re in-house, if you want to do it well. You have to apply your knowledge of law without letting that take center stage when it doesn’t need to. At Sidley, if there was a problem to solve, our lawyers only brought forth pragmatic solutions that could work within the business construct.
Sharon: Are you still in touch with other colleagues that you’ve met at Sidley?
Joe: You and I had offices next to each other when you first started, and I like to think I had a small part in helping train you. Now, of course you know more than I do about many things, so you serve as a trusted advisor to me. Two mentors who helped me as a young lawyer are John O’Hare and Ken Baronsky. John taught me to be broadly interested in what your clients do and who they are, not just focused on the current project. Ken taught me about the need to do the work necessary so that you know the answer, as opposed to saying what you think might be the answer.
Sharon: What advice would you give a young attorney who is just starting their career in private practice?
Joe: Stay a generalist for a good period of time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are a smart, informed person and you’ve got a question, you should probably ask it, because you’re not the only one wondering. You can save your team from making inaccurate assumptions.
Sharon: What is your proudest achievement?
Joe: My family is my proudest achievement. Raising four strong, independent, beautiful young women and girls. And at least one future lawyer. [Joe’s oldest daughter is a 1L at Southern Methodist University Law School].
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