Lawyer in the Spotlight: John Cook
Our Lawyer in the Spotlight blogs are an opportunity to showcase the fantastic lawyers in our Legal Network and the incredible work they do for our clients, every day.
John Cook is an experienced corporate transactions lawyer, a thought-leader in the industry from his base in Newcastle, and one of Lexoo’s top performing lawyers.
He is the Regional Managing Partner and heads up the Corporate and Commercial Services team at Butterworth Solicitors, where he puts his 20+ years of experience gained at DLA Piper, Walker Morris and Dickinson Dees into practice.
The firm’s approach is down to earth and flexible, which John fully lives up to, being praised by clients for his professionalism, responsiveness and patience. He has advised clients on 200+ successful engagements through Lexoo.
1. What’s the best thing about being part of Lexoo’s legal network?
Being part of a network of highly experienced and talented lawyers is a win-win. From a personal perspective I’ve been able to work with clients that probably wouldn’t have considered working with me if I wasn’t on the Lexoo panel. I’d hope my clients would say that they’ve received excellent service but delivered to them in a way that’s a lot different to city firms. There’s a lot of knowledge and talent outside of the traditional city firm environment and Lexoo is a fantastic way for clients to access that talent.
2. What type of work do you do for clients from Lexoo?
Mostly transactional corporate work. It’s an even mix between business sales and purchases, reorganisations and corporate finance work. I do have a lot of property experience and I think this helps because I can offer a “one stop shop” approach to business purchases rather than having to have two lead fee earners on a deal.
I’m heavily involved in running my own business which gives me a good perspective of real world issues. I understand the internal pressures of limited resources and I think clients can relate to that.
3. What’s your legal background and how does it help you do what you do now?
I actually started life in a traditional firm environment – doing everything that came through the door. I could see at the time that the legal industry was changing althoughI thought that everything of any value would be done through bigger firms and the high street based service would disappear completely. I took myself off to Leeds and I worked at large law firms on large scale projects ranging from high volume remortgage to bespoke finance projects to due diligence on large scale acquisitions. It taught me a lot about how to organise processes.
I think having worked literally at opposite ends of the spectrum I’ve got something different to offer. I understand how corporates work and what they need but I also understand that accountability from a trusted source is equally as key. I think my background drives a more practical and, dare I say it, down to earth approach that clients appreciate. I’ve seen deals where it almost looks like the client’s advisors have forgotten what the client wanted to achieve in the first place and I hope I’m never guilty of that.
4. What are the challenging and most rewarding aspects of your day-to-day work?
The most rewarding thing is getting a deal over the line for my clients. I never tire of it. Hopefully my clients see that I’m completely immersed in what’s happening so when we get over the line the buzz is amazing – whatever the size of the deal.
I don’t really look at any business challenges in a negative way – usually there are some learnings there.
5. What’s the best thing about being responsible for your own practice?
The biggest positive is the ability to give more time to clients. I’m not tied up in lengthy internal management meetings. My regular internal meetings take up less than three hours a week which means the rest of my week is spent serving clients. Large firms need governance and in fairness it is necessary because of their structures and reporting requirements. My metrics are much simpler – I need to deliver first-class service to great clients that is compliant and profitable. Nothing else is important and that’s very liberating.
6. How does being part of the Lexoo network enable you to do so?
Rolling out the Lexoo design system
All the components for our new design system had been coded in isolation and packaged up into a neat little npm package .
As the development team began to re-code pages from our Client Dashboard, plugging in the new components, we set up a system for tracking our progress and brainstormed options for putting our new pages live.
The page-by-page rewrite was more complicated than might first meet the eye, as our new components are written in vue.js however we had not yet fully implemented vue architecture across our front end. This meant that many pages on the client interface needed to be converted from standard Rails applications to SPAs (single page applications) before components could be slotted in.
We wanted measure:
How we integrated Design System components into our user interfaces
After 6 weeks working with our contractor Nicolai, development of our new design system components was nearly complete. We were all excited, but there was still a long way to go before we could unveil our re-design.
Here are a few things we considered before putting our shiny new components into action.
Where to start?
Creating the Lexoo Design System
Earlier this year, we decided to build a design system for Lexoo – see this post on our thinking behind this. Once the decision was made and we had audited our existing designs, the next step was to work closely with our designer, Jack, to actually create the design system. This post explains the process we followed.
Building a reference point
We spent the first week with Jack mocking up refreshed designs for a few key pages across Lexoo. We focused on what we felt was the essence of Lexoo’s offering:
The biggest mistake we made at Lexoo and what in-house legal teams can learn from it
As a team of ex-BigLaw lawyers ourselves, we know that the traditional law firm model is broken. It just isn’t set up to solve the key problems most GCs have: needing to have all the answers internally, not blocking commercial progress, protecting the company from risks, demonstrating value, controlling costs, and looking to the future.
Over the years as CEO of Lexoo, I developed a pretty solid understanding of the areas where there was room to improve on the model. However, this led to a different problem: where to start. I didn’t have a solid prioritisation framework to help me make those decisions, and it led to all kinds of problems:
The power of legal spend data
The idea of tracking legal spend might make some legal teams feel a little uneasy. With projects that seem to rake up billable hours and complicated billing systems, it can be hard to stay on top of your spend and make sense of all the data.
What’s more, the lack of visibility and transparency, confusing fee arrangements (that are inconsistently applied), and recurring billing errors and questionable time recording behaviours are now harming the reputation of in-house teams, according to Apperio.
Tracking spend data is an expectation of modern legal teams who must pay closer attention to the budget with increased oversight from the CFO.
Considering spend data more carefully shouldn’t worry in-house teams, tracking this data more effectively actually strengthens their strategy and position within the business. It not only keeps the business happy but also empowers GCs to make data-driven decisions on their outsourcing strategy and resourcing of their internal team as well as strengthen negotiations with your CFO by understanding the ROI on your spend.
Inform your outsourcing strategy
With data you can approach your outsourcing strategy with discipline and evaluate what the most efficient or cost-effective means of outsourcing are for your team.
For some, low-value contracts which can create a backlog while others struggle with complex projects which are a drain on the team’s capacity. Data can provide insights where the most gains are to be made with outsourcing and who is best to outsource to.
Demonstrate your value to the business
The perception of Legal as a cost centre versus profit centre impacts budget conversations and strategy, but by tracking your spend more regularly, your team can demonstrate its value in a way the business can understand.
The value the legal team provides can be hard to quantify as it can vary from avoiding fines to opening doors to a new market and by tracking legal spend against these wins, you can challenge the misconception of the legal team as a “cost centre”.
Identify when and who you need to hire
Make it easy to justify a new hire by tracking legal spend by jurisdiction and job type! By recording where significant amounts of legal spend are going, you might just find that it’s enough to justify a permanent hire.
Whether it’s a large amount of data protection and privacy queries or a particularly demanding jurisdiction, this spend data could give you the fire power you need when approaching your CFO about a new hire.
Introducing the Lexoo Design System
It’s time for a spring clean! Lexoo has experienced intense growth over the last few years and we’ve outgrown our existing user interfaces (UIs). In this series, we’ll explain why we decided to build a design system, how we built it and how we’ll be rolling it out across our site.
Why we decided to create the Lexoo Design System
Our online platform was originally designed to help individuals, startups and SMEs find and hire the best lawyers. We’ve had tremendous success over the last 18 months, so much so that we’ve now outgrown our existing experience:
The countdown to Legal Geek
Legal Geek 2019 is nearly here
Everyone at Lexoo is excited to share our love of all things LegalTech at the year’s best legal tech event, the Legal Geek Conference on the 16th of October!
What was once a conversation of what “could be” in LegalTech has evolved into a celebration of the progress in this sphere and an incredible opportunity for attendees to find current and actionable advice to improve their functions, be it in an in-house legal team, law firm, or startup.
So, what have we got in store this year?
As more and more legal teams start operating like businesses within a business, there are many ways to improve their processes that stretch beyond tech. This year, our CEO DVB will make this the focus of his talk, describing the biggest mistakes he made as the CEO of Lexoo and how they were rectified, whilst providing some practical take-aways for GCs and in-house teams about prioritisation frameworks, customer development, and continuous improvement.
The evolving responsibilities of the General Counsel
As organisations evolve to remain relevant in 21st-century society, so too does the role of General Counsel. This evolution has given rise to new opportunities and challenges for modern GCs as they take on board new responsibilities, become more commercially focused and cut costs.
At our recent Unicorn Legal Leaders Roundtable with James Sullivan (Monzo’s VP Legal), Gordon Youngson (the European Head of Legal for Transferwise) and Tom Hambrett (Head of Legal at Revolut), this shift was a central theme. Speakers highlighted several ways in which the role of GC, particularly at startups and scale-ups, has evolved and the responsibilities this brings.
1) Facilitating the company’s hyper-growth
Companies in the tech space have unlocked an unprecedented rate of growth. What is a concept on one day, could be a viable product the next, and the decision to move into a new market can come at any time.
Hyper-growth can lead to challenges for legal teams as they struggle to keep up with the pace of the business. It often falls on the GC to find ways of tackling issues and preventing the legal function constraining the wider business.
Tom Hambrett told us that at Revolut they’ve even appointed lawyers to their product teams, enabling the team to have confidence that they’re aware of the risks at all times. This ensures risks are spotted as they arise and product can be rolled out on schedule without last-minute complications.
When it comes to international expansion, companies like Monzo, WorldRemit and Transferwise are coming to Lexoo to rapidly source lawyers with local law expertise. We help these teams remove the time-consuming and laborious task of searching for (and vetting) international counsel, facilitating the rapid expansion of the company.
Ultimately, the legal team needs to ensure that growth is sustainable and future-proof, and there are times where legal matters are more pressing than speed. Tom Hambrett hit the nail on the head, recalling this analogy:
Immigration case law after Brexit: what’s affected?
With Brexit looming closer by the day, what current immigration case law will be affected, once the UK leaves the European Courts of Justice in 2019?
Whilst the UK remains within the European Union for now, any judgements decided within the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) have precedence over UK national laws. Therefore, this means that any immigration related case law decisions will automatically impact upon the UK immigration process.
Examples of the ECJ overruling UK immigration law begun in 1992 with the notorious ‘Surinder Singh’ case [R v. Immigration Appeal Tribunal and Surinder Singh ex parte secretary of state for the Home Department] in which has led to many EU citizens having right’s that they normally would not have.
Within the case, the ECJ overruled the UK’s “primary purpose rule” for proving the status of a relationship with a British Citizen, with the ECJ “right to freedom of movement” law. From this, the ‘Surinder Singh Route’ remains a valid immigration option for immigrating spouse and partners to this day, within the UK.
However, after Brexit, the ‘Surinder Singh Route’ may become affected, in which the UK, being outside of the ECJ, may return to the more stricter immigration law of “primary purpose rule”, which will affect many EU citizens who are in a relationship and residing with British citizens.
Other case laws that may become affected post Brexit are the “Metock” case [Metock v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law reform (2008)] in which after Brexit, if an ‘over-stayer’ remains, then regardless of that individual’s relationship, the UK will view this person as an illegal immigrant – This is a significant change from the ‘Metock’ decision, in which an unlawfully residing Non-EU national within the UK could remain if they entered into an ‘authentic’ relationship with a residing EU national in the UK.
Furthermore, the “Zambrano” decision [Gerado Ruiz Zambrano v. Office National de l’emploi (ONEm) C-34/0 (2011)] will also be affected post Brexit, in which is based upon a Non-EEA parent of a child of EU citizenship status having the “right to work” and the “right to care” under the ECJ, also known as the “Zambrano Principle”.
Thus, post Brexit, due to the UK Government desiring to tighten the definitions of “family reunification” and “family member” within its immigration rules, these three key cases decided by the ECJ will be affected, in which could cause turmoil for current EU citizens residing within the UK.
Rahul Batra is the Managing Partner at Hudson McKenzie with over 15 years’ experience. He provides high-quality legal services to start-ups, SME’s and multi-nationals advising on a range of commercial matters including JV’s, company formation, contracts-shareholder & IP agreements, Directors’ disputes, sponsor licences, Tier 1 & Tier 2 visas.