Three of San Antonio’s top lawyers talk about life, work, and their passion for representing their clients
Davis & Santos counsels its clients through a variety of issues involving state, federal, and international law. With a hard-earned reputation for success in and out of the courtroom, is dedicated to finding real-world solutions for complex problems.
Davis & Santos primarily focuses on legal issues commonly faced by business owners, and the depth of experience offered by its lawyers shows that they are well-equipped to deal with these issues. One of the firm’s two founders, Sarah Santos, is a skilled litigator with an extensive background in business and banking law. Sarah practiced with a national firm and then served as corporate counsel for an international bank before deciding to start Davis & Santos with partner Jason Davis. Sarah Santos focuses her practice on commercial litigation, which includes banking and business disputes, employment litigation, and fraud-related investigations. A native Spanish speaker, Sarah Santos represents financial institutions, businesses, and individuals from the U.S. and Mexico in domestic and cross-border disputes.
To complement the skills of its founders, the firm brought in shareholders Santos Vargas and Caroline Newman Small. Santos Vargas started his practice at a large San Antonio law firm before starting his own practice, and then joined , where he represents financial institutions, businesses, individuals, trusts, and estates in a variety of complex litigation matters. Caroline Newman Small came to the firm from the United Sates Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., where she was an Honors Program Trial Attorney litigating cases in federal courts across the country that involved issues such as federal tax law, bankruptcy, commercial law, constitutional law, and state property law. Caroline Newman Small’s experience representing the United States in bankruptcy courts nationwide serves as the foundation for the firm’s business bankruptcy practice.
Together with the firm’s other partners, Sarah Santos, Santos Vargas, and Caroline Newman Small pride themselves in providing their clients, whether small-business owners or large corporations, with the most professional and personalized representation possible. The three recently took some time to sit down and talk about their lives, their work, and their drive for helping individuals and business owners.
1. When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
Sarah Santos: My passion for advocacy started at a very young age. Even in my earliest childhood memories, I remember always negotiating everything with my father. I had a hard time accepting “no” for an answer and would always look to build my case and explore solutions. Although I grew up in a Mexican culture where “machismo” is very much still a reality, my parents always taught me and my sisters to be strong women, to stand up for ourselves and for others, and to never give up. With these principles ingrained into who I was, I then had the privilege of seeing my older sister go to law school and become an attorney while I was finishing my studies at Princeton University. I soaked in her experiences and stories and knew that I had found my calling.
2. What sort of education did you go through?
Santos Vargas: I received my undergraduate degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. From there, I went on to study law at Syracuse University College of Law, where I was the editor-in-chief of the Syracuse Law & Technology Journal. After my first year studying law at Syracuse, I worked for two different federal district court judges. That experience really helped put the practical application of what I was learning in law school into sharp focus because I was able to gain firsthand experience with how judges apply legal theory to real-life cases.
Caroline Newman Small: I was a pre-med student at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. I had a brief career as a scientist at the global research headquarters for one of the world’s largest aerospace conglomerates while I earned my master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Connecticut. I decided to pursue law school over medical school after working closely with intellectual property lawyers in my research position and finding myself drawn to the work they were doing and to the legal field in general.
3. Why did you decide to focus on business law?
Caroline Newman Small: During my science career, I worked in a chemistry lab where we were developing state-of-the-art fuel cell technology. We worked closely with the in-house intellectual property lawyers to file patent applications and develop an IP strategy to protect the new technology. I remember being at the very first meeting with the lawyers and thinking, “I should be on that side of the table.” As soon as I completed my master’s degree in chemistry, I applied to law school. My experience at the multinational corporation provided me with a strong foundation in business that helps me better understand our client’s needs and concerns.
4. What’s your favorite part of the job?
Santos Vargas, Sarah Santos, & Caroline Newman Small: Our favorite part of practicing business litigation and bankruptcy is that every case is different. We are often called upon to quickly learn about our clients’ industries and businesses so that we can effectively represent them, whether inside or outside of the courtroom. It is truly fascinating to be able to learn so much about our clients, their operations, and the challenges they face. This exposure uniquely positions us to find innovative solutions and represent our clients effectively.
5. What are some of the challenges you face in this area of law?
Santos Vargas, Sarah Santos, & Caroline Newman Small: One of the challenges we face representing businesses is also one of the reasons we really love representing businesses. We are often asked to get involved and up to speed on complex disputes very quickly. As a result, we often deal with very short deadlines and have mastered the art of becoming prepared under extreme time constraints. Even when we are faced with novel issues, we have the experience and dedication to find a creative solution fast and efficiently.
6. How you do deal with that challenge?
Santos Vargas, Sarah Santos, & Caroline Newman Small: Our repeated ability to deliver high-quality, innovative work product for our clients under intense time pressure makes us proud of the work that we do. The reward is not only seeing results for our clients, but also having a firm of tremendous lawyers and staff that take pride in their role on the team.
7. How are you able to maintain a work-life balance?
Santos Vargas: At the start of every week, I mentally commit to time that I plan on spending with my family, and I do everything I can to meet that commitment. Our law firm is very family and team oriented.
Sarah Santos & Caroline Newman Small: The truth is, maintaining a work-life balance is difficult, and we believe those challenges should be discussed more openly in the legal field. As lawyers, we have the incredible ability to dedicate ourselves to solving difficult problems for our clients, but we often fail to dedicate ourselves to our own well-being. At our firm, we understand these struggles and encourage all of our employees to prioritize their own health and families because, in the end, that makes us better lawyers for our clients. For us, we could not maintain a work-life balance without the support of our amazing spouses and families. They understand that our schedules are unpredictable, and they always manage to find flexibility in their own busy lives to accommodate our often chaotic schedules.
8. How important are professional relationships in building a firm like Davis & Santos?
Caroline Newman Small: In my opinion, professional relationships are essential to the practice of law. The legal system is a mix of people from our community—judges, juries, lawyers, clients, etc. By fostering professional relationships with our colleagues and neighbors, we can begin to understand one another and share our backgrounds, experiences, and wisdom. The legal system and our clients are well served by a bar that is committed to collegiality, professionalism, and civility.
Sarah Santos: Professional relationships have been key to building our firm. Before Jason Davis and I decided to form this firm, we had known each other professionally for a long time. In fact, when I was in-house counsel, I would hire Jason on litigation matters because he was one of the best litigators I had ever known. From this relationship, I knew I wanted to practice law with him. Most partners and other associates we have hired throughout the years each have their own story, but at the root of it all, it is the relationships we have built throughout our career that have helped shaped our firm into what it is today.
9. What’s the most personally rewarding thing about what you do?
Caroline Newman Small: My father is a Vietnam veteran who has been committed to serving his country and his community his entire life. Inspired by my father, I viewed being a lawyer as an opportunity to serve in my own way, with my own strengths, and that is why I chose to start my career at the Department of Justice representing the United States. In private practice, my favorite part of the job remains the service aspect—serving our clients by helping them navigate through what can be a complex and intimidating legal system.
10. How do you stay active in the San Antonio legal community?
Santos Vargas: I just finished my term as president of the San Antonio Bar Association and am now serving as a Director of the State Bar of Texas. This has allowed me to highlight and strengthen our firm’s reputation in the legal community.
Sarah Santos & Caroline Newman Small: Our firm highly encourages its attorneys to be active in the legal community in San Antonio. Often, when you get to know the other attorneys and judges in the community, it encourages and promotes civility and professionalism in our practice. We participate in bar associations and other more industry-specific organizations. We have also engaged in pro bono work with organizations such as RAICES and with mentorship programs which encourage students to consider law school.