Benny Agosto, Jr.
story: Melissa Rondon
MAN OF THE LAW
From the courtroom to the classroom and absolutely everywhere in between, Benny Agosto, Jr. is making a difference by investing in future Latino leaders. He talks the importance of representation, generosity, and community involvement.
www.abrahamwatkins.com | twitter: @bagostojr
Benny Agosto, Jr., believes in giving back to the community, and has built his career (and just about every other aspect of his life) around standing up for those without a voice. “We represent the little guy against the big guy,” he says. “That’s our motto.” There’s a touch of pride in his voice, and it’s warranted -- as a partner of one of Houston’s most successful plaintiffs’ law firms; former president of both the Hispanic National Bar Association and the Mexican American Bar Association of Texas; Founder and President of the Mexican American Bar Association of Texas Foundation and Co-Founder of the HNBA Legal Education fund; and President Elect of the Houston Bar Association, not to mention a member of a number of charity boards from Houston Volunteer Lawyers to Lone Star Legal Aid, Agosto is committed to making a difference in every way he can. To him, generosity is a requirement, especially for someone in his position; talking about his and his wife’s activity on various charity boards and community projects, he says, “We have to do it. We feel like it’s our duty.”
This is not to say that Agosto gives out of obligation by any means. If you ask him about his verging-on-superhuman capacity to serve, he’ll tell you point blank, with undeniable earnestness, “This isn’t work to me.” Giving truly is Agosto’s passion, and it’s at the heart of nearly everything he does. “If we’re giving of ourselves and our money and our talents, then it comes back in folds,” he says. One of the best ways we can give back to our community, according to Agosto, is to educate and prepare the next generation for leadership. “It’s not about me all the time. It’s about promoting the people around you and promoting and developing talent in people,” Agosto says, which feeds a cycle of success and growth: “We become leaders, and then by being in those leadership roles we can continue to promote that well-being … It never ends once you get in that circle -- you start giving and then you get blessed and then you give more and you get blessed -- and that’s been the motto and the way I live my life.” That belief has propelled Agosto to give back to the community by shaping and investing in its future leaders.
“It starts with the people around you,” he says in regards to planting the seeds of leadership. “You learn from the mentors and the people that are around you … Not all of us are lucky to have a mentor that looks like us.” That’s part of what Agosto aims to change, seeking to increase diversity and representation wherever he can. He’s no stranger to homogeneous spaces, or to diversifying them: when he was hired by his present law firm, Agosto was the only non-white male lawyer. Things have changed a lot since then: “If you look at my law firm today, now that I’m one of the owners and partners … my law firm looks like our community. It has Latinos, it has African Americans, it has different, diverse lawyers-- women, men--- of all colors.” Ever the boundary-breaker, Agosto’s legacy extends far beyond his law firm.
Agosto will be the first to point out the expansion of diversity over the course of his career. “Not only are we seeing gender diversity,” he says, “we’re seeing the growth of diverse lawyers -- Latinos and Latinas.” That growth is something to acknowledge, according to Agosto, who says, “We should be celebrating this diversity, as a state and as a country.” While he readily acknowledges the progress we’ve made as a community and as a nation, he recognizes that the fight for diversity and representation in leadership is far from over. In talking about our future leaders, there are key questions that Agosto asks to drive his decision-making: “Where are they? Where do they land? What opportunities are they given to be in boardrooms and … different leadership roles?” By addressing these questions, Agosto believes we can create more, higher-quality opportunities for future Latino leaders.
Agosto is excited to see more Latinos leading in their communities for a number of reasons, partly because it’s evidence that his approach is working. “We see how we’re moving into positions of leadership … because we’re educated and because we’re prepared,” he says. According to him, education and preparedness are major factors of his success, both in the courtroom and in life: “We have to be the most prepared, the most studied, do the most research, and that’s the key to the success of our cases,” he says. Education in particular is critical to Agosto’s mission; after all, if we aren’t doing our due diligence to educate our future leaders and prepare them for the future, then the entire community suffers. “The profession needs to be educated to become leaders … If we do not focus on teaching others that are coming behind us (through mentorship and education) to become leaders of the future, then our profession will be at a standstill ... It will not be flourishing.” And that’s at the heart of Agosto’s goal for the Latin community: Not just surviving, but really thriving.
Agosto believes firmly in the ability of Latinos to succeed in leadership position -- in fact, in places like Texas (where Latinos make up a growing third of the population), Agosto even sees an advantage for Latinos, who are able to reach clients at their level, “to understand the culture, [and] to speak the language. We have that great advantage -- if, of course, we are willing to do a good job for them.” That indomitable desire to do good work for his community is at the heart of so much of what Agosto does, and he fully believes in the ability of people to grow and improve. While he acknowledges that negative stereotypes of Latinos as lazy or entitled exist, Agosto is quick to dispel them, saying, “I don’t believe that. That is not truth in my mind.” And it isn’t true in his experience, either: over the course of his career, Agosto has advocated for and uplifted thousands of people, people who very much want to build a better world for their loved ones. Those experiences affirmed Agosto’s faith in his community and propelled his desire to
There are many ways to make a difference through volunteerism, and Agosto recognizes his unique position to make a positive impact through his work in the legal community. “We can put together a plan to make the Houston Bar -- and, frankly, all bar associations across the state -- stronger, more cohesive, and [we can] be an integral part of our community… and make it better.” Agosto believes that leadership is not an innate ability, but a skill that can be learned. “I strongly believe that leadership can be taught,” he says, his passion and conviction evident in his voice. “You may have charisma, but leaders are not only the ones who stand at the podium and lead… Success in leadership is found through service.” That’s certainly true for Agosto, whose service to his community has rippled not just through his local Houston, but all the way to the state level. Agosto has used every resource he has, from his legal prowess to his natural teaching ability to his time and energy, to fight for the better world he so strongly believes in.
If you ask Agosto what he wants to accomplish, when all is said and done, he says with a smile, “I’m having fun … I love what I do.” When he says that this isn’t work to him, he means it -- giving is in Agosto’s soul, and all that generosity bubbles over, rippling out to his community in remarkable ways. Agosto has no plans of retiring or stopping any time soon, either. “I’m an overcomer,” he says, “and when you’re an overcomer, you look for the next hill to climb.” That attitude is deeply woven into the fabric of Agosto’s personality, and it’s admittedly hard to imagine him choosing to pump the brakes. So long as he’s healthy and able, he’ll keep on giving it everything he’s got. In the end, his goal is a simple one: “I want it to be said that I gave more than I took,” he says. If his impact on the community is any indication, Agosto is on the right track. +
Martinez v. Republic Waste–
Agosto won a multi-million dollar verdict for the family of a worker from El Salvador. Defendant appealed due to his undocumented status. The case made history in Texas, when it established the precedent that undocumented workers are entitled to loss earning capacity regardless of their status.
THERE ARE THREE PERSPECTIVES NECESSARY TO MAKE AN IMPACT:
Historical: “If we don’t study what has happened in the past, we won’t understand what needs to be done.”
Present: “[It’s] acting upon what you learn …standing in today …[and] having that sense of community.”
Future: “Put forward an action plan” with long-term goals in mind.