Spotlight: RedLaw interviews…Dave Cook, founder of Mason & Cook and the structured work allocation practice

By RedLaw | 10 Oct, 2017

An increasing amount of law firms are introducing the structured work allocation method for their day-to-day operations. But what are the benefits for both lawyers and firms? Is it really making a positive impact in terms of career progression and productivity and what does the future look like for this relatively new working process? We spoke to Dave Cook, founder of Mason & Cook, the first consultancy to embed this function into global law firms.

Dave, you founded Mason and Cook back in 2013. What were your drivers behind starting the business? What services does Mason and Cook provide and how does your consultancy differ to others within the legal space?

As most things do, our business started by an accidental chain of events. At the time I was working for a Big 4 firm who seconded me to a magic circle firm to establish a work allocation function within their Corporate practice. Twelve months on and the function was fully established in Corporate and we had also implemented the structure within the Capital Markets Practice. On coming back to my firm, they didn’t see a huge amount of value of what I had done, even though they were the first ever law firm to look at this way of working. I however, saw the impact it had on the lawyers’ lives, how much easier it made the day to day for partners, and ultimately how much more productive and engaged the lawyers were as a result of what was now in place. I knew this was a good thing for the industry, so I left the firm and set up on my own.

To date, we are still the only firm that purely specialises in the work allocation space. We have built up a strong track record in the market and have the experience to help firms achieve key benefits that will allow them to continue to grow and develop. We have the right approach to introducing and embedding this structure, which I think is the really key thing that has allowed us to grow as a business, based on client demand.

Mason and Cook are the only consultancy within the market to have introduced structured work allocation functions to global law firms. Tell us about this function; why did you feel there was a need within the legal sector and how does it help both law firms in their day to day operations.

As above, it makes such a difference on the ground. It is always linked to strategic priorities for firms but the beauty of the function is it makes things happen on the ground. There are many strategies which are difficult to translate through to an operational level. We make that happen and see the benefits of doing so every day. It’s rewarding to see the positive impact the structures we introduce have on partners and lawyers alike.

What benefits are there for lawyers using this system? How does it impact on career progression or opportunities for development for example?

This is a major benefit of the function. We get a deep understanding of each individual lawyer, their current skills and experience, existing relationships, sector knowledge – which is all incorporated into the allocation process. The focus for us however is to always link what lawyers want, or need, to be doing when allocating work to them. When collecting the picture of their current capability, we also gather information on every area, relationship, or area of interest they have, which allows us to consider these whenever making allocation suggestions or decisions.

This is obviously linked with looking to balance the workload of lawyers across a practice group. If you can create a situation where you are providing work to lawyers that they actually want to do, along with a fair and consistent distribution across the group, you have a more productive, engaged and happier group of lawyers.

What are the main benefits and improvements law firms using the structured work allocation method have seen since implementation.

A huge area is the visibility this creates. We have intelligence at our finger tips on a firms current capability, lawyers areas of interest or development, and the forecasted activity and capacity. This gives a firm a detailed real time view of what is happening in their firm at any point in time, down to an individual lawyer perspective if need be.

Operating in this way also saves a huge amount of partner time. We take away the burden of having to track people down when new work comes in. The commitment from a partner is now a 3 minute conversation of what they need and the details of the matter, we then take away the burden and use our intelligence and relationships with lawyer to fine the most appropriate options, quickly.

The diversity angel is something that always comes into play. By having this structure in place you greatly reduce unconscious bias and other factors which can negatively impact progression, particularly for women. Our clients have seen the benefits of this, even winning major diversity awards, which are pinned to the work allocation process we introduced.

How do you see structured work allocation being used in the future or how may this function develop over the next two years?

I think more and more firms will adopt it and it will become the industry norm. It is still early days with only a handful of firms embracing this fully to date.

A big risk to this are firms looking at introducing it themselves. There is always an underestimation in what is critical to allowing the function to succeed and the benefits to be driven. As a result the function does not have the positive impact it should and becomes more of an administration burden for associates, which is something it never should be. We are conscious of this and will continue to support firms, whichever route they take, to avoid a negative view of the function in the market.

The main area for development is technology. We can’t ignore this and are currently developing our own software to support this space, using our experience and client feedback of what is important.

Dave, you have worked as a consultant with global law firms for a number of years. What in your opinion have been the biggest changes you have seen within the legal sector over the last few years and what are firms biggest challenges ahead?

The emergence of Legal Project Management is one area I have seen grow from a non fee earning perspective. I am sure this will continue to grow and develop and become more sophisticated over time.

Legal service centres has been a key area of development. I see this as a really positive move. It provides flexibility for firms regarding pricing structures and also ensures the trainees can focus on work which will be more rewarding. Flexible lawyer models add to this and can see the two working hand in hand as the market develops.

Technology is the last part, but I think we are all trying to keep up here!

What have been your greatest professional and personal achievements?

I always have a huge sense of pride whenever firms look to commit and expand the function and processes we introduce, usually with our continued help to do so. That they are so vocal about the benefits it has generated for them, seeing them win awards as a result of what we have introduced, and the continued personal and professional relationship it forms between us all creates a very good feeling for us.

Being a Dad is still my proudest achievement.