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Growing Financial Services Firm Reshuffles Legal C-Suite

Dec. 6, 2019, 4:46 PM

A privately held financial services firm has appointed James Silk, an asset management partner with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, as its new chief legal officer.

The Beneficient Co. Group said in a statement that Silk would take the “newly created senior leadership position” located in its Dallas headquarters and report directly to private equity investor Brad Heppner, its chairman and CEO.

Silk’s hire by Beneficient, an alternative asset manager that caters to wealthy clients by turning nonliquid assets into cash, was announced Dec. 3, one day before Thompson & Knight said Beneficient’s general counsel, Jessica Magee, had returned to the law firm as a partner.

Magee, who joined Beneficient as general counsel last year, told Bloomberg Law in an email that she missed investigative and trial work. “The opportunity to do that at Thompson & Knight and also continue to advise Beneficient is an exciting opportunity,” she said.

Thompson & Knight’s statement touting Magee’s hire noted that Beneficient is a client of the Dallas-based firm and highlighted her role in assisting the company’s board and senior leadership on a “wide array of legal, regulatory, and corporate governance issues,” as well as “numerous strategic transactions.”

Silk, 50, will relocate to Dallas from Washington, where he joined Willkie Farr in 2006. Silk made the move to the firm as part of a team of lawyers leaving Shearman & Sterling led by Barry Barbash, a former director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Investment Management. Barbash, who became head of Willkie Farr’s asset management group, is now senior counsel at the firm.

It was at Shearman where Silk said he began working with Beneficient’s Heppner, who in 1981 started The Crossroads Group, a Dallas-based fund manager that he eventually sold to Lehman Brothers in 2003. The relationship continued when he moved to Willkie Farr.

“I’ve been in practice a quarter century, the vast majority of that in the alternative space,” Silk told Bloomberg Law. “I’ve worked with pretty much every financial institution and product you can think of, and the opportunity here is really exciting given the growth of private equity.”

Silk said his role as executive vice president and chief legal officer will be more business-focused, with Beneficient’s compliance, legal, operational, and tax departments reporting to him. He said he expects to be closely involved in the process for picking a new general counsel to replace Magee sometime next year. The general counsel, he said, will handle Beneficient’s day-to-day legal issues.

High-Profile Hires

Magee, a former supervisory trial counsel and associate director of enforcement in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regional office in Fort Worth, Texas, joined Beneficient in early 2018. At the time, Beneficient also hired three other former SEC lawyers in Fort Worth: senior trial counsel Timothy Evans, senior enforcement counsel Nikolay Vydashenko, and enforcement attorney Tamara McCreary.

All three former colleagues of Magee remain affiliated with Beneficient in various roles, Silk said. Vydashenko, who prior to joining the SEC was a litigation associate at Vinson & Elkins in Dallas, currently serves as vice president and deputy general counsel at Beneficient. McCreary and Evans both made roughly $200,000 in their final year as federal regulators, according to public records.

McCreary is now chief compliance officer at Beneficient in Dallas. Evans, a former deputy general counsel and chief of staff at Beneficient, in August was named chief financial officer of GWG Holdings Inc. GWG, a publicly traded company based in Minneapolis that buys life insurance policies on the second market, earlier this year announced a strategic financial partnership with Beneficient.

GWG, which hired Craig Opp as its general counsel in August 2018, is led by CEO Murray Holland, a lawyer from Dallas who previously served as managing director of MHT Partners, a small investment bank in the city.

Silk declined to discuss in detail the relationship between GWG and Beneficient. Willkie Farr, his former firm, was listed on a securities filing last year as advising GWG on a master exchange agreement with MHT and Beneficient. Bloomberg data show that GWG owns a controlling stake in the company.

Beneficient will continue to grow its in-house legal group as its business expands, Silk said. Beneficient bolstered its in-house ranks last year by bringing on Michael Andrews, a former associate at Weil Gotshal & Manges in Dallas, as an assistant general counsel.

Big Money Backers

Those bankrolling Beneficient besides Heppner include fellow private equity pioneer Tom Hicks and several other financiers, including former Dallas Cowboys quarterback-turned-commercial real estate executive Roger Staubach.

Heppner told the Dallas Business Journal at the time of Beneficient’s hire of Magee in February 2018, that he began laying the groundwork for Beneficient five years earlier. In that same interview, Hepper said he knew Magee for more than a decade, having worked with her when she was an associate at Thompson & Knight.

Magee and Evans also worked together as associates at the firm, in addition to their shared time at Beneficient and the SEC. Mark Sloan, Thompson & Knight’s managing partner, praised Magee’s return as a boon to the firm’s trial practice and relationship with Beneficient.

“The firm looks forward to continuing to advise Beneficient, and Jessica’s in-house experience will certainly deepen our bench strength,” Sloan said.

Silk said that Thompson & Knight has been outside counsel to Beneficient for as long as he has. He said he expects the firm and Magee to continue working with the company on corporate governance issues. Other firms that have handled legal work for Benficient include Jones Day, Mayer Brown, and several in Delaware, where the company is incorporated, Silk said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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