There is no such thing as work-life balance; it’s always an imbalance one way or another

A Special Father’s Day Edition Of “Thursday Thoughts” With Mario Vasta

With Father’s Day approaching, in this week’s leadership profile we headed to Phoenix to visit with attorney Mario Vasta, a father to three young children!

 Talk about what Father’s Day means to you, especially as it relates to the legal profession and balancing the demands of your career with the needs of your family.

This is a special Father’s Day for me because it’s the first one with all three of my kids! My wife and I just welcomed twin baby boys into the world in December! Add them into the mix with my four-year-old son (and my dog!) and you have a pretty busy household!

Father’s Day is a good time to sit back and realize the “why” behind my profession. Being a lawyer is not always easy. But it’s worth the effort to be a role model for my kids. I think it’s vital to set a good example for the next generation – whether it’s your own kids or someone else’s! My kids will know (and my four-year-old already does) that their dad – like most other dads – puts a lot of work in day in and day out so that they can have certain opportunities as they grow up. There is no such thing as work-life balance; it’s always an imbalance one way or another. Some weeks I work much more than I would like – while other weeks my family obligations take me away from client work more than would be ideal. But, in the end, there is purpose behind it all. That’s what being a father gives me and what Father’s Day allows me to reflect upon.

Without naming clients, are there any intriguing case matters you’d like to share in your hybrid Business Litigation and Intellectual Property practice?

I’m fortunate to be able to work with a lot of very interesting clients and my trademark practice allows me to get to know their businesses, so that I can help protect their brands. Recently, I represented a company whose direct competitor was utilizing my client’s trademark (and words very similar to my client’s trademark) to drive customers to that competitor. Unfortunately, this type of behavior happens regularly, and clients come to me wondering what they can do about it. The good thing is that often the evidence in these types of cases makes liability for trademark infringement obvious. Explaining the situation and the law to the competitor and asking them to stop is frequently enough to resolve the situation.

I also continue taking down fraudulent websites that prey on my clients and their customers. The creativity of these fraudsters is astounding – if it wasn’t so wrong, I would be impressed! These bad actors set up websites with domain names that are nearly identical to the trademarks of my clients, hoping to confuse customers into paying them for services rendered by my clients. Thankfully, there are administrative processes out there to get the websites taken down relatively quickly so everyone can get back to business.

Our summer associates are now working in six of our offices. What would you tell your younger self, or a 1L at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of the Law currently contemplating a career in the legal profession?

There are many different types of legal professions out there and law school is not, in and of itself, the best way to figure out which one is right for you. Take the time to meet different attorneys in vastly different areas outside of school. Take clinics and other hands-on classes. Take summer opportunities that sound interesting to you, even if they are not the most glamorous. It is only through those opportunities that you will discover how you want to practice for the next 30 or 40 years of your life. And even then, when you are practicing, stay curious as to areas of the law in which you have no experience because you never know where your next big opportunity may come from.

Also, just relax. Attorneys have a way of intimidating people (this is one of the reasons why so many people don’t like lawyers!). But remember that every attorney, every judge, every Supreme Court Justice, at one point in their life was a law student who knew next to nothing about the law. It may seem like the road to confidence is long and unending. In some ways it is; “imposter syndrome” never truly goes away. But once you realize that everyone is in the same boat, everyone is just doing the best they can under the circumstances, and everyone actually knows a little bit LESS than what you assume that they know, it becomes a lot easier to find your confidence.

Talk about your dad – and the impact he has had on your life and career. And what do you learn from your kids?

My dad definitely taught me a lot about perseverance. He never had the easiest life and wasn’t always successful. He was born and raised in a very mafia-influenced part of southern Italy where he helped his father as a butcher in the family shop from a very young age. When he was 16, without knowing any English, he had the chance to go to America with his family. On that trip, he decided to stay here permanently even though both of his parents and all his siblings returned to the old country only shortly after arriving. To this day, he has never gone back. He lived with his grandparents for a time, in his car at other times, and even joined the U.S. Navy. Every step of the way he met difficulties, but continued despite them. My dad eventually was able to return to the family tradition – but in a new country – by becoming a business owner with his own butcher shop in New York. Life is rarely easy, and one lifetime is plenty of time for a lot of unexpected things to happen. But his life story has taught me that if you always do what you think is right, and progress forward, in the end you can make it much further than you ever expected (literally and figuratively).

My own children teach me just as much. For example, my four-year-old likes to teach me that just being silly is alright sometimes. After a day dealing with complicated and sometimes very serious cases, coming home to make believe games – often involving pretending I’m a dragon while he proceeds to chase me with a sword he got at Medieval Times – allows me (or forces me) to let go of the stress and unwind. We can’t take ourselves too seriously all the time. It’s the little moments that make everything else worth it.

Talk about your biggest failure. What did you learn? And how did you pick up the pieces and move forward?

My biggest failure was probably my first court appearance when I was a first year (or first few months) lawyer. I remember that the client went with me, increasing the stress-level of an already stressful situation. The hearing did not go as expected. I had thought it would only be a status conference and was not adequately prepared for the substance that the Judge decided he had wanted to cover when we showed up. The Judge was not kind to me despite my bar number showing how green I was. It was an embarrassing moment although, thankfully, there were no negative results from it. Afterwards, I felt completely defeated. But I think of this moment before every single hearing or meeting or conference I have, and it reminds me to over-prepare because you never know how things will unfold.

What’s the best – and worst – piece of career advice that you’ve ever received?

My dad actually gave me some great general career advice a long time ago. He told me to surround myself with successful people – and, specifically, people who were successful in the same way that I wanted to be successful. It turns out that he was really introducing me to the concept of “networking” before I would be inundated with similar advice in law school.

I’m fortunate enough to not be able to remember any really bad career advice I’ve been given. Which means I have probably disregarded a fair amount of “advice” over the years.

What are you currently listening to (podcast or music); reading; and watching/streaming – and what’s your go-to take-out order?

I’ve been watching a lot of Stanley Tucci’s “Searching for Italy” on Max (the streaming service formerly known as HBO Max). In the spirit of Anthony Bourdain, Tucci visits a different region in Italy every episode to meet with locals and discuss culture and, most importantly, FOOD! It inspires me to cook again, which I haven’t had the chance to do as much since the twins were born! When I have the time, I love spending time in the kitchen making Italian food.

Okay, you’re hosting a lavish dinner party at your home. Name the three people – from any time in human history – who you’d invite.

First, I would have to invite Carl Sagan, the late astronomer, author, science educator and host of the show Cosmos (1980). Sagan had a greater impact on my worldview and general philosophy than any other person and I’ve read almost everything that he wrote. Dinner discussion would be endless.

Second, I would invite the second president, John Adams. I personally think that Adams is one of the most underrated presidents (I’m still sore about how his character was treated in Hamilton!). It would be fascinating to talk to him about his life and get his perspective on current events.

Finally, in honor of Father’s Day, I would give my last invitation to my dad. He is also a history buff and I’m sure he would enjoy sitting next to President Adams. My dad is a marvelous storyteller – as well as an outstanding cook. In fact, if I’m hosting such an important dinner, I would probably ask him if he would mind doing the cooking! I’m sure he would be honored, so long as he could open the red wine while he works.

Many thanks to Mario for his outstanding insights! And happy Father’s Day from all of the attorneys and allied legal professionals here at Fennemore.

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