On Jan. 4, 2013, Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick announced
senior staff appointments on the eve of a new legislative session.
Among the appointments, attorney Kate Cook was named the governor's
chief legal counsel.
"Serving as the governor's chief legal counsel is a dream job for
me," Cook said. "I am extremely honored and proud to serve the
governor in this unique capacity."
Widely reported as the first woman to hold the high-ranking
position of chief legal counsel in a Massachusetts governor's
office, Cook has served the Patrick administration for more than
five years, first as deputy legal counsel, then as the director of
Policy and Cabinet Affairs and now as its chief attorney.
"I am continually inspired by the governor's compassion, integrity
and intelligence," Cook said. "When it comes to those core
principles lawyers embrace - equality, civil rights, civil
liberties and doing the right thing - the governor is the real
deal. He is such an inspiration and it's contagious for all of us
lucky enough to work on his team."
THE ROAD TO POLITICS
Growing up in Arkansas, Cook knew she wanted to be an attorney at
a young age.
"My mother sparked my interest in the law," Cook said. "She was one
of the court-appointed juvenile defenders and made a career out of
helping people, until she became a juvenile court judge - the first
woman judge in Garland County, Arkansas. I grew up listening to her
stories about her cases, her clients, her challenges and her joys …
and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer too."
Cook's parents, who were college students in the late '60s in
Stillwater, Oklahoma, were deeply inspired by the political climate
in the United States at the time.
"It was impossible to grow up in my house and not be interested in
politics," Cook said. "I can remember my parents complaining about
Reagan's tax cuts and driving around Hot Springs, Arkansas with the
only Mondale/Ferraro bumper sticker in town. We ate dinner together
most every school night, cooked by my father. And over dinner [we]
would talk about the news of the day, including public policy
issues. My brother and I were encouraged and expected to have our
own opinions and to participate in the discussion."
Cook was a sophomore in high school when she was on a school trip
to Washington D.C. and heard Arkansas Sen. David H. Pryor's staff
talk about his start in politics as a page. Cook was hooked. She
applied for a position her junior year and served as a page for
Arkansas Democratic Representative Beryl F. Anthony Jr., for a
semester - getting to school at the crack of dawn so she could be
on the floor of the House of Representatives when it opened.
Cook's early involvement in politics was no surprise to her
"She was always curious," said Cook's mother, Judge Vicki Shaw
Cook, who recognized the impact the D.C. trips had on her daughter.
"We knew we had lost her to the East Coast."
Cook, who went on to study at Brown University, spent a summer in
college interning at the Clinton White House during the 1996
re-election campaign, before entering Harvard Law School in
"In law school I geeked out a bit on local government and
administrative law, and I have been incredibly fortunate to have
had the opportunity to mesh my intellectual and political passions
through my career." Cook said. "I can still remember the day my
administrative law professor, David Barron, cracked open David
McCullough's Truman to guide our discussion about the Youngstown
Steel Seizure issue that brought the three branches of government
to a head during the Korean War. It's a great case for thinking
about separation of powers and executive powers in particular. We
poured over Justice Jackson's amazing concurring opinion that
describes the spectrum of executive power, and what is meant by
Jackson's reference to a "zone of twilight" in which the Executive
and Legislative branches may have "concurrent authority, or in
which its distribution is uncertain." For me, that decision, and
classroom discussion, made the constitution come alive in an
entirely new way. And there was another lesson Professor Barron
made sure we understood when studying this case. After the Supreme
Court rejected Truman's right to seize the steel mill, the
president and justices had a drink. There's an important nugget
there regarding good sportsmanship. I think in law and politics,
once you've fought the good fight, it's critical to be able to
shake hands and agree to disagree sometimes and move on."
Cook, who came to Massachusetts to attend Harvard Law School,
never expected to stay, but fell in love with the commonwealth over
the course of law school.
"I tell law students and new lawyers whenever I can, that
Massachusetts is a wonderful place to live and work - especially if
you are a lawyer," Cook said. For someone like me, from a small
town in Arkansas, the collegial and close-knit legal community
gives the area a small-town feel. I'm always amazed by the shared
commitment to providing pro bono services across the Massachusetts
While at Harvard, Cook participated in Professor Charles Ogletree's
criminal justice clinical and was SJC Rule 3:03 certified -
allowing her to represent low-income defendants in Dorchester
Juvenile Court and Roxbury District Court. This gave her an
introduction to the courtroom, advocacy and Boston's legal
"Like so many attorneys, I went to law school to help people," Cook
After graduation, Cook clerked for two years with the Hon. U.S.
District Judge Morris E. Lasker. After clerking, Cook turned down a
law firm offer to serve as assistant corporation counsel to the
City of Boston, before taking a deputy legal counsel position in
the Patrick Administration - working on budget and legislative
matters - some of the most difficult and complex issues in the
governor's office. In 2010, Cook took a general counsel position at
the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means before
returning to the Patrick administration a year later as the
director of Policy and Cabinet Affairs.
"Before graduating from law school, I had many customer service
jobs, from making sandwiches at Subway to the front desk clerk at
the Hilton, and I learned some of the best lessons in those jobs,"
Cook said. "So much in life comes down to treating people with
respect, building relationships and creatively finding solutions to
problems presented. The years I spent in the courtroom as assistant
corporation counsel to the City of Boston and my time as general
counsel to the Senate Ways and Means Committee required me to make
difficult judgment calls quickly and to present complex legal and
policy arguments succinctly to judges, city employees and
In addition to her professional commitments, Cook further connected
herself to the Massachusetts legislative process post-Harvard by
serving on the Women's Bar Association Board, the WBA Legislative
Policy Committee and the National Abortion Rights Action League
Board and political committee. Cook continues to serve on the
Women's Bar Foundation board and is immediate past president of the
foundation, which connects poor women and families to legal
representation. A Massachusetts Bar Foundation fellow, the
philanthropic partner of the Massachusetts Bar Association, Cook is
also a longtime and active member of Boston's Ward Five Democratic
Committee and a regular volunteer at the Women's Lunch Place.
"I have seen [Kate] grow from an eager young law student to a
dynamic and driven senior public official," said U.S. Senator
William M. Cowan, who has known Cook since she was a summer
associate at Mintz Levin, while at Harvard Law.
TAKING A SEAT AT THE TABLE
Medical marijuana. Boston Marathon bombings. Small business
regulations. Judicial appointments. CORI reform. As the governor's
chief legal counsel, Cook faces a wide range of legal issues on a
daily basis and never has a "typical" day.
"She is the best kind of lawyer in that she understands that the
law is a tool," said Cowan. He believes Cook always has her eye on
the larger picture, knows the "devil is in the details" and is
always able to give the best reasoned, well-rounded, and always
correct interpretation of the legal issues in play to the
Cook, who feels "truly blessed" to have had wonderful mentors
throughout her life, has crossed paths with Cowan throughout her
entire career, until he was ultimately her boss within the Patrick
"Mo has taught me many things. Among them, he has always encouraged
me to make my voice heard. A few years ago when he was chief of
staff to the governor and I was new to the governor's senior team
working as director of Policy and Cabinet Affairs, we had gone to
the governor's office for a meeting and I opted for a chair not at
the table, but around the perimeter," Cook said. "After the
meeting, Mo whispered in my ear, 'if there is an empty chair at the
governor's table, I don't ever want to see you pass it up to sit on
the sidelines.' I have to admit that sometimes I still have to
remind myself of that when I walk into the governor's
As the governor's chief legal counsel, Cook leads a team of
attorneys, who are collectively responsible for a wide range of
legal issues in the areas of public safety, education, health and
human services, state finance, housing, transportation, energy and
environmental affairs, labor and workforce development, as well as
working with the Judicial Nominating Commission.
"Kate is wicked smart, unflappable and has a true moral rudder, all
of which are helpful in any good lawyer, but essential in her
current post," Patrick said. "She also gets along with everybody
and takes everybody as she comes."
"Kate brings a strong desire to ensure Gov. Patrick's goals are
achieved, and she comes to work every day with unparalleled
enthusiasm and energy. Importantly, because of her background as
the governor's director of Policy and Cabinet Affairs, she
appreciates and understands the relationship between law and policy
and how one informs the other. She has experience in important
roles in both state and city government," said Nicholas P.
Martinelli, Cook's deputy chief counsel. "She has an extraordinary
work ethic and she takes a personal interest in the issues and in
ensuring we do the best job we can do. She has a down-to-earth
sensibility and - perhaps most importantly - she has a can-do
In the fast-paced environment at the Office of the Legal Counsel,
Cook stays grounded through family and running.
"Running for me is such a fine metaphor for life - you apply hard
work and discipline and it pays off. You still might have a bad
patch, but you keep putting one foot in front of the other, and the
bad patch passes," said Cook, who has run 15 marathons and a few
ultramarathons. "For me, running is truly my time for meditation,
working through issues and discovery."
"She listens and observes well, which allows her to understand the
full-range of legal issues," said Cowan, of Cook's strengths as a
chief legal counsel. "She brings realism to her work."
Cook's number one goal as the governor's chief counsel is to make
sure there are no vacancies in the judiciary by the end of
Patrick's term in 2015.
Using a running saying, Cook notes that "the governor is sprinting
to the finish line of his second term. The Patrick administration
has a tried-and-true method for job creation and economic
development: investing in innovation, infrastructure and education.
We will continue pushing in these three areas until the last hour
of the last day," Cook said. "In the judicial arena, the governor
intends to fill every judicial and clerk-magistrate vacancy. The
Joint Bar Committee is such a valuable resource, representing a
cross-section of the bar from around the commonwealth. I appreciate
their volunteer efforts, and value the administration's excellent
working relationship with Marty Healy and the JBC Chair Carol
"Kate, as chief legal counsel, has joined an exclusive, small
coterie of the state's top lawyers who are privileged to work
directly with the governor on extremely sensitive and challenging
issues," said Martin W. Healy, the MBA's chief legal counsel and
chief operating officer. "There is a history of great
accomplishments from this distinguished group. You can quickly
grasp Kate's keen intellect and approachable style when engaging
her on an issue. The bar is very fortunate to have her in this
position, at the forefront of legal issues affecting the practice
of law and the administration of justice."
Cook is proud to have been part of the Patrick administration for
over half a decade.
"I have been very fortunate in that I have loved every job I have
had as an attorney, each one more than the one before," Cook said.
"And with all my different roles, I've had the privilege of working
with smart, dedicated people. Serving as chief legal counsel is
challenging, fulfilling and fastpaced, and I can't imagine the next
gig will be as great as this one."