The Border Patrol's Loss

Things haven’t always gone the way Michael Gavito wanted—usually, they’ve turned out better

Published in 2016 Texas Rising Stars — April 2016

When Michael Manuel Gavito graduated from college in 2000, his sights were set on a career in law enforcement rather than law. Growing up in Brownsville, on the border with Mexico, he dreamed of becoming a border patrol agent. Gavito, an avid angler and hunter, explains: “I like the outdoors, so I thought, ‘This is for me!’”

After completing the lengthy application process, he was told to wait for word on entering the border patrol academy. So he waited. And waited.

His father had a suggestion: “While you’re waiting, take the LSAT.” After that, another idea: “Go to law school.” He did. By the time Gavito graduated at the top of his class from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, he figured his border patrol application must have simply fallen through the cracks. By that point, it didn’t matter.

“Thankfully,” says Gavito, 38, a plaintiff’s construction law litigator with Gravely & Pearson in San Antonio, “I did not wait around for the border patrol.”

Gavito represents school districts, hospitals and other property owners who have construction-defect claims against contractors, architects and engineers. Much like his unexpected route to a law degree, Gavito’s work in construction law was nothing he would have predicted.

“Not getting the initial things I asked for is kind of a theme in my life,” he says with a laugh, then explains how a clerkship for a federal judge, a seemingly sure thing one summer during law school, disappeared when the judge suddenly changed her mind about taking clerks. He had to scramble to find a summer job. The firm that hired him did construction law, but on the defense side.

Thus began his mentorship under attorney David Benjamin, now with Benjamin, Vana, Martinez & Biggs in San Antonio. “To this day, more than 10 years later, he’s still my mentor,” even though the two men now often face each other in court, says Gavito.

“He taught me how to read construction plans, he taught me what specifications were, and he taught me the construction language,” says Gavito. That summer job turned into full-time employment shortly after law school. Gavito and his wife, Kristen, moved briefly to Brownsville, then returned to San Antonio, where he ran into Marc Gravely at a deposition. “He said, ‘We’re looking for someone like you.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m looking for someone like you!’”

Working on the plaintiff’s side was a revelation. “The defense side has so many limitations in terms of having to keep track of every six-minute increment of your life,” he explains. “You have to submit bills to insurance companies, and insurance companies have so many constraints on the billing guidelines and reporting guidelines. Over here on this side, we don’t have those constraints. So we get to put 100 percent of our day toward working up a case, toward building a case for our client.”

The four-plus years he spent working on the defense side have proven invaluable in his current work. “I think my best strength is anticipating what the other side is going to do. Because I used to do it.”

A case he handled just six months after joining Gravely & Pearson is the one he calls his most rewarding. “I got to do it from A to Z, and it was a very successful result,” he recalls. The case involved a newly constructed events center with a leaky roof and windows. Gavito was able to get the client enough money to get it fixed and operating as it was intended. “That’s what gives you the warm and fuzzies,” he says.

An avid tennis player since high school, Gavito is active in the United States Tennis Association and the Greater San Antonio Adult League Tennis Organization. But for him, it’s all about the game.

His sports philosophy applies to law as well. Playing his A-game on behalf of his client—not crushing his opponent—is the point: “I think life’s too short to be fighting all the time. Fight when you have to; otherwise, let’s all just try to get along.”

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