We have cloned a mouse cDNA that encodes p36, a novel subunit of the CDK-activating kinase (CAK). p36 contains a C3HC4 zinc-binding domain or RING factor and is associated both with a TFIIH-bound form of CAK and with a free trimeric form. p36 promotes the assembly of CDK7 and cyclin H in vitro, stabilizing the transient CDK7-cyclin H complex. Stabilization and activation of CAK by p36 is independent of the phosphorylation state of T170, the conserved activating residue of CDK7. Assembly of active CDK7-cyclin H dimers can also occur through an alternative p36-independent pathway that requires phosphorylation of T170 by a CAK-activating kinase, or CAKAK. Thus, CDK7-cyclin H complex formation can be achieved by multiple mechanisms.