Santos Vargas: In the Arena

Santos Vargas: In the Arena

When Theodore Roosevelt spoke of “the man in the arena” who “knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause,” his words accurately describe trial lawyer, Santos Vargas.

While some attorneys enter the legal arena with a confident walk, Vargas was suddenly and unexpectedly tossed in very early in his career. He was just a few years out of law school when another attorney asked him to sit second chair in an upcoming jury trial. Wanting to get as much trial experience as possible, Vargas readily agreed, not realizing just how much experience he was about to acquire.

He reviewed the file and tried to get up to speed on the case as quickly as possible. The trial date arrived and immediately after jury selection, the first chair attorney leaned over to say he was stepping out for a moment, but would be right back. While he was out, the judge indicated she was ready for opening statements.

Unexpectedly, the lead attorney did not return. Vargas was granted permission to go find him, but the man, like Elvis, had left the building. Vargas returned to the courtroom and explained the situation to a judge who did not want to keep the jury waiting. As Vargas tells it, the judge said, “We have a jury in the box, you represent the plaintiff. We’re ready, so go ahead and give your opening statement, counselor.”

It’s the thrill, the thrill of the competition and the thrill of knowing that you can make a real impact for your clients.

Vargas says that case was a real trial by fire, but the jury returned a verdict in his client’s favor on liability and damages. “Talk about getting put on the spot and having to perform on-the-fly! But it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because there was no time to be scared about what was coming next. I just had to do it.”

Vargas’ work ethic and resiliency in the arena of law comes in large part from the experiences of his parents who are immigrants. Both were from rural areas and lacked much in the way of formal education. His father arrived in the United States at the age of 17 and found work as a migrant farm worker. His mother arrived at age 15 and began work as a housekeeper. His dad eventually started his own small roofing company. “I learned all about hard work growing up on those roofs. It was a great lesson about completing a job no matter how hard. That really prepared me for the future. Those days motivated me to get ahead, to go to get an education, and to eventually go to law school,” he says.

“I grew up in Port Arthur, hometown of Jimmy Johnson. A tough town with a tough reputation,” he says. Growing up was something of an arena in itself. “As a kid you didn’t know what was in store for you. It was hard for me to dream. The idea of becoming a successful lawyer, much less a partner in a successful firm, was something that just never entered my mind. I’m really thankful to my parents for instilling that work ethic in me from a very early age. Growing up was tough, but my parents made sure we grew up appreciating hard work and valuing their work ethic.”

Vargas was inspired to become an attorney while in college by one of his professors who was an attorney. “I had never seen anybody carry themselves and speak confidently like that. He really inspired me. I wanted to be that guy,” he says.

After earning his Juris Doctor, he began his career at Cox Smith Matthews (now Dykema) before forming his own practice. He joined his current partners at Davis & Santos, PLLC, a multi-practice boutique firm, in 2011, the year the firm was founded. Vargas and his partners currently do trial work across the State of Texas.

Vargas’ move into his current practice areas was an evolutionary process. Initially, his focus was on business litigation. His wife, Patty, is board-certified in estate planning and probate. At the time they worked at different firms, but often made referrals to each other. “Her firm didn’t have any litigators and our firm didn’t have any estate planners, so we regularly referred work to each other. She really helped my fiduciary litigation practice flourish, which is primarily what I do now,” he says. Patty Vargas is now also a shareholder at Davis & Santos.

These days he finds being in the arena exciting. He says, “It’s the thrill, the thrill of the competition and the thrill of knowing that you can make a real impact for your clients. As an attorney you’re given responsibility over what is quite often the most important thing in your client’s life. The intense level of inspiration you get from knowing that somebody is depending that heavily on you, and the motivation to work even harder than they’re expecting, is really something that drives me.”

His personal philosophy can be summed up in the phrase you can’t win if you don’t play. “You have to put yourself out there. You’ve got to put yourself in a position where there’s an opportunity to succeed. And more often than not, you will succeed if you believe in yourself.”

Vargas and his wife have been married since 2007. They have three children: Laura, 14, Santos, Jr., 12, and Lucia, 5. “Lucia’s a spitfire; she’s the one who keeps all of us on our toes,” he says.

Vargas is a big history buff and loves to read biographies as well as books about different historical periods with a focus on past civilizations. Patty and Vargas enjoy traveling, especially to cities or countries they have yet to visit. He is active with the CYO at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, where he coached flag football for his son’s teams for several years. He is very active with the State Bar and has served as the chair of the board of directors of the State Bar of Texas and currently serves as the vice-chair of the board of editors of the Texas Bar Journal. Vargas is currently running for president-elect of the State Bar of Texas.

The real focus of his life outside of the office is family. “I love spending time with my wife and kids fishing, hiking, or just about anything outdoors. My family is my hobby,” he says.

Back at the office, his work is all about results. The Teddy Roosevelt quote about being in the arena is right. “What I like most about my work is helping people, being able to finish a case, and to get justice for my client. After all these years, I still get a charge out of getting in there and achieving the outcome that my client deserves. That’s so important to me. That’s where attorneys belong; that’s where the fight is,” he says.

At a Glance

Davis & Santos, PLLC

Practice Areas

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