Reno attorney Herb Santos Jr. makes community a priority
Throughout his career as an attorney and sports team owner, Herb Santos Jr. has focused on community service.
Early on, Santos was a social worker serving the homeless in the Reno-Sparks community. Seeing some of the hardships people went through provided an impetus for a greater purpose.
“I saw there were better ways to help people than just provide food and shelter. I wanted to do more,” Santos said in his office last week.
His practice, The Law Firm of Herb Santos, Jr., in Reno, focuses on cases involving negligence, injuries resulting from accidents, and workers’ compensation claims, the last making up 75 percent of the cases he takes on. As an attorney, Santos is often amazed, even appalled, at the lengths defendants will go in a courtroom.
“I find it very important not to allow regulation or big corporate interests that will erode the Seventh Amendment, because you are taking away people’s rights to resolve disputes in the courtrooms by their peers,” Santos said. “The courtroom is where everyone is equal. We want to make sure we always protect that right.”
He recently completed litigation of a case that went to jury trial where his client had been in an auto accident but was being denied an insurance claim. His client won a $1.3 million settlement, one of the largest in any civil case in the history of Carson City.
Santos himself had to take on insurance companies when he needed to get screened for colon cancer. His mother died of colon cancer, and Santos was at risk for the disease. But even though he says screenings should have been covered by his insurance, the carrier denied his claim and he had to go through the appeals process. After Santos’ own ordeal, he became an advocate for educating other people on their rights with regard to medical screenings so they wouldn’t be taken advantage of by insurance companies or large corporations.
Santos also supports cancer-related nonprofits such as Children’s Cancer Foundation, and he is chair of the Suits N Sneakers Ball, an annual event that benefits cancer research and those who are battling the disease.
“There are so many organizations out there, but what I try to do is find the ones that have touched a special chord in my life,” Santos said. “But whenever an organization or, say, a school reaches out, I’ll do what I can to help out.”
In 2011, Santos, a huge sports fan, purchased along with two local partners controlling interest in the fledgling Reno Bighorns basketball club of the National Basketball Association Development League (now G-League) and an affiliate of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Even though they have turned over controlling interest of the team to the Kings, Santos has stayed on as a minority owner.
“It turned out to be a very successful business decision,” Santos said. “We took over a team that was losing a lot of money, we turned it around, and now with the Kings’ resources, (the Bighorns) are going to be huge.”
Much like his law practice, Santos made it a point that the Bighorns are heavily involved in the community. The Bighorns have won the G-League’s Community Appearance Award three straight seasons for their efforts in reaching out to the Northern Nevada communities. Santos said the Bighorns have contacted all of the estimated 400 nonprofits at some point to see if the club can help out in fund-raising efforts.
He also has developed friendships with many on the Bighorns’ staff, including several of the players.
“When we bought control of the Bighorns, I felt like I adopted 15 sons,” Santos said of the Bighorns players.
Santos’ father, Herb Sr., had a decorated legal career starting as a JAG officer in the U.S. Navy. He later worked for then-Washoe County District Attorney Bill Raggio and served as city attorney before starting his own private practice.
Santos said his father never persuaded him or his siblings to get into law, but he did insist they needed to make it on their own.
When the younger Santos decided to go into law, he enrolled at the Nevada School of Law at Old College in Reno, but the school closed after his first year.
Undeterred, Santos wrote a handwritten letter to the McGeorge School of Law of the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, asking for admittance. Even though he was accepted, his credits at Old College were not, forcing him to retake his entire first year of law school.
Times were tough for Santos. Married, he was building a family while working and going to law school full-time.
But Santos persevered. After graduating from law school, he returned to Reno and began working for attorney Terry Friedman. Originally, Santos thought he’d get into bankruptcy law, but while working for Friedman, he took on some workers’ comp cases. That became his area of expertise and he eventually left to start his own private practice.
Over the years, Santos said he has often solicited legal advice from his father.
“He’s been my role model. He is just a wealth of information and his advice that he gives, I listen to very carefully, because he’s never given me bad advice,” Santos said.
The best advice he ever gave?
“Never make a case about you and the other attorney. You do a disservice to your client in the case if you don’t get along with the other attorney and the other attorney doesn’t like you,” Santos said.
Santos, who is licensed in Nevada and California, senses that the respect factor is often displayed in Northern Nevada courtrooms even in contentious cases. He feels that’s not always true in other jurisdictions.
“I see that a lot in the legal field where attorneys don’t get along and that clouds the issues,” he said.
Santos sees himself as a role model not only to his three children or any young lawyers but to those of any nationality or walk of life. He always has an open-door policy for any young lawyer and he also speaks to groups such as at-risk youth.
“I hope that someone who looks at me is someone who has worked hard, has never given up and always followed the rules,” Santos said. “You have to face a lot of challenges in life, but I’m a firm believer that God never gives us more than he thinks we can overcome. The thing is, you can never give up.”
Christal Park Keegan’s professional experience includes working as an attorney for the National Judicial College in Reno and for the Chapman Law Firm in Northern Nevada.