The Wagner Law Group | Est. 1996

Sophisticated Legal Solutions Boutique-Style Service


Stephen Wilkes, a partner in the firm, heads the firm's Investment Management Law practice. He also is a Practice Group leader for the firm's ERISA Fiduciary Compliance and Independent Fiduciary practices. Steve advises a national client base of mutual funds, CIFs, private funds, registered investment advisers, insurance companies, broker dealers, wealth management firms, banks, trust companies, third-party platform providers, Taft Hartley Funds and plan sponsors on ERISA, tax, and related securities law issues. Stephen counsels clients regarding ERISA fiduciary and prohibited transaction issues, investment matters, alternative investments, securities law issues, federal tax issues, and the employee benefits aspects of bankruptcy and related financial restructurings, reorganizations and liquidations. He interacts with regulatory agencies and Congressional staff on legislative and regulatory issues involving the DOL, SEC, IRS, PBGC and OCC.

Stephen has extensive experience in handling audits by the Department of Labor, the IRS, and the United States' Security and Exchange Commission. He gives advice and counseling with respect to retirement plan services agreements, investment management agreements, DOL regulations, SEC regulations, federal legislative activity, qualified employee pension plans, ERISA litigation, Collective Investment Funds, off-shore investment advisers, Sales and Marketing Distribution Agreements and Wrap-Fee Programs. Stephen has also worked closely with his clients regarding structure among broker-dealer firms and platform provider firms for product distribution and preparing non-discretionary or discretionary advisory agreements, Form ADV Part 2, regulatory disclosures and filings, marketing materials, prospectus, revenue sharing, best investment management practices, CIF advisory and sub-advisory agreements, selling and administrative services agreements, distribution agreements, vendor agreements, compliance manuals and WSP's. Stephen has worked with various parties to Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and other financial reorganization and restructuring matters on ERISA, pension plan, and related employee benefit matters and claims.

Prior to working at The Wagner Law Group, Stephen worked as an attorney in a San Francisco law firm, as senior counsel at Financial Engines, Inc. in Palo Alto, and at Merrill Lynch in San Francisco in the fields of ERISA, Securities, and retirement/compensation services. Additionally, Stephen founded and headed his own firm specializing in the area of ERISA.

Stephen's experience also includes partner, associate, general counsel, and assistant general counsel positions at The LTV Corporation (NYSE) in Cleveland, Merchants Suisse Inc. in New York, New York, Hughes and Luce in Dallas, Winstead, Sechrest & Minick in Dallas, Texas, and at Gordon Hurtwitz in New York, New York.

Publications & Media

Television Appearances

  • Attorney: DOL’s Interpretation of Fiduciary Rule More Expansive Than Ever –, November 10, 2021 (PDF)


  • Emory University School of Law, Atlanta, Georgia
    • J.D.
  • RIBA, Political Science, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI. 1976
  • Emory University
    • M.B.A.

Bar Admissions

  • California
  • New York
  • Massachusetts – Inactive
  • Texas
  • U.S. Tax Court
  • U.S. Court of Federal Claims
  • U.S. District Court Southern District of New York

Professional Associations

  • American Bar Association
  • Planning Committee, Membership Committee, Western Pension Benefit Conference, San Francisco, CA
  • JCC Marin, Board member
  • Speaking engagements for organizations including Western Pension Benefit Conference; Goldman Sachs; Texas Society of CPA’s; CFA Society of San Francisco; Black Rock; JP Morgan, Harvard Club; LIMRA; Natixis; Loring Ward Financial Services; FINRA Roundtable; SEC Regional Conference; American Bar Association; Yale Club.
  • Editor and Contributing Author to “Roadmap to Executive Compensation”, THE BUSINESS LAWYER

Pro-Bono Activities

  • Board Member, San Francisco YMCA

Past Positions

  • Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLC, San Francisco, California, Attorney, 2008 to 2012
  • Financial Engines, Inc., Palo Alto, Senior Counsel, 2006 to 2008
  • Stephen P. Wilkes, San Francisco, 2004 to 2006
  • ERISA Consulting
  • Merrill Lynch, San Francisco, 2002 to 2004
  • The LTV Corporation (NYSE), Cleveland, Assistant General Counsel, 1997 to 2001
  • Merchants Suisse Inc.,New York, General Counsel, 1993 to 1997
  • Hughes And Luce, Dallas, Partner, 1991 to 1993
  • Winstead, Sechrest & Minick, Dallas, Associate, Partner, 1983 to 1991
  • Gordon Hurwitz, New York, Associate, 1980 to 1983

Law Alerts

Bugielski v. At&T Case Continues With Appellate Reversal

By Michael Schloss and Stephen Wilkes On August 4, 2023, a Ninth Circuit panel reversed a District Court decision in favor of AT&T -  holding that AT&T breached its fiduciary duties by, among other things, failing to consider whether Fidelity’s compensation...

The Retirement Security (Nee Fiduciary) Rule Rides Again

By Michael Schloss, Andrew Oringer, Barry Salkin, John Sohn and Stephen Wilkes Earlier this week, on October 31, 2023, the Department of Labor (the “Department”) rolled out its long anticipated new regulation defining who is a fiduciary who provides investment advice...