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KeyCorp Taps Ex-Big Law Partner in Texas to Replace Legal Chief

May 25, 2021, 12:38 AM

KeyCorp announced Monday that James Waters will become its general counsel and corporate secretary as of July 6.

Waters joins KeyCorp from his role as group executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary for Cullen/Frost Bankers Inc. He declined through a spokesman for the San Antonio-based bank holding company to discuss his new job.

KeyCorp spokeswoman Susan Donlan told Bloomberg Law that Waters fills the role vacated earlier this year by Craig Beazer, who had succeeded the Cleveland-based bank’s longtime legal chief Paul Harris when he retired in January 2020.

All three of KeyCorp’s last top lawyers have been Black, which remains unusual for legal departments. The ranks of Black general counsel have grown to include more than 5% of the Fortune 1000’s legal chiefs, but large inequities still remain in the industry that lead to fewer minorities reaching the top in-house legal echelon.

Beazer, a former deputy general counsel at Bank of America Corp. and the Bank of New York Mellon Corp., joined KeyCorp as a deputy general counsel in 2018 before being promoted to its top in-house legal role last year.

He was featured last year as part of Bloomberg Law’s Black General Counsel Project.

Beazer left KeyCorp—parent company of regional bank KeyBank—this past January to replace another retiring general counsel, Leon Roday, at Lincoln National Corp., a Radnor, Pa.-based financial services company that operates Lincoln Financial Group.

Beazer currently owns more than $1 million in Lincoln Financial stock and about $241,000 in KeyBank stock, according to Bloomberg data.

Waters began his career as an associate at Shearman & Sterling in New York before going on to spend 18 years at Haynes and Boone in Dallas, where he was a banking, corporate, and administrative partner.

KeyCorp chairman and CEO Christopher Gorman said in a statement that Waters’ “experience and skill-set in the critical areas of law and banking will be essential as we continue to grow our company.”

Frost Bank hired Waters in 2018 to succeed Stanley McCormick, a longtime in-house legal chief for the bank.

“We’re sad to be losing James, but happy for him and his new opportunity,” Frost Bank spokesman Bill Day said. “We have begun a search for a new general counsel and corporate secretary.”

At KeyCorp, Waters will oversee all legal operations for the bank holding company, whose $4.1 billion merger with Buffalo, N.Y.-based First Niagara Financial Group Inc. was approved by regulators in 2016.

Donet “Don” Graves Jr., an attorney who was head of corporate responsibility and community relations at KeyBank until leaving the bank last year, was sworn in earlier this month as a deputy secretary at the Commerce Department.

The Biden administration nominated Graves after he served as an adviser to the Biden-Harris presidential campaign on racial wealth gap-related matters.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com