Utah lawyer of 32 years led by faith, Christ’s teachings

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Jeff Devashrayee shares his experience as a lawyer for Union Pacific. Devashrayee credits Christ for his success. (Joel Leighton)

Jeff Devashrayee took center stage to present his oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The plaintiff, Fred Mancini, had appealed the court to overturn a prior ruling in favor of Devashrayee’s client and employer, Union Pacific Railroad.

Despite Devashrayee’s tireless preparation for any possible question to be thrown at him by the judges, the weight of the task still racked his nerves. Devashrayee presented his argument with confidence and precision, and the court later ruled in favor of his client, Union Pacific. 

After almost 32 years practicing law, Devashrayee is a veteran in the American legal system.

Born to both Indian and Danish immigrants in a Latter-day Saint home, Devashrayee learned quickly that to excel in life and his career he needed to work hard. He said the real source for his success is from Jesus Christ and His teachings.

“My faith is everything to me. It drives me. You try to conduct yourself everyday living your religion as if the Savior were there,” Devashrayee said.

Like many aspiring Latter-day Saint lawyers, Devashrayee’s first step began at BYU. Devashrayee used the accounting major to prepare himself for the workload of law school. He credits BYU and the hours of his life spent in the Tanner Building to his ability to study hard and think critically.

“I felt law school was easy compared to accounting at BYU,” Devashrayee said jokingly.

After graduating from the University of Utah in 1990 and cutting his teeth in commercial litigation, Devashrayee went on to spend 23 years of his legal career as a lawyer for Union Pacific Railroad. The billion-dollar company, headquartered in Nebraska, operates in 23 states across the country.

A Union Pacific train travels on July 31, 2018. Jeff Devashrayee represented the company legally for 23 years. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Devashrayee began his career at Union Pacific as a general attorney litigating and trying cases, before being promoted to the general director of ethics and compliance. For all 23 states Union Pacific trains operated in, Devashrayee and his team worked to enhance the safety at railroad crossings.

Devashrayee maintains crossings are safe, but his team enhanced their safety by recommending installations of active warning devices at certain crossings or attempted to close crossings altogether.

“We felt like we were making a big safety contribution, even saving lives,” he said.

Throughout his career, Devashrayee was a key player when a bill was introduced in the Utah legislature that could negatively impact the company or the railroad industry. He was no stranger to testifying before transportation committees when the legislature was in session.

However, Devashrayee’s career would take him to the upper echelons of the American legal system as he appeared before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the 2004 Mancini v. Union Pacific case, he even presented an oral argument before a panel of judges.

“You don’t want to look foolish, but the bigger pressure is you want to represent your client the best way you possibly can,” Devashrayee said, recounting standing before the court.

In a profession often caricatured as money-grubbing and manipulative, Devashrayee has always sought to live the golden rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. He tries to act in accordance with how the Savior would act.

A longtime coworker of Devashrayee, Kent Hansen, recognized his empathetic approach and dedication to ethical law.

“His integrity is impeccable. He always took a moderate approach, he wasn’t somebody who was going to go out there and get us in trouble because he was being overly aggressive,” Hansen said.

For lawyer Steve Densley, Devashrayee was both a supervisor and a friend at Union Pacific.

“Jeff has a very positive attitude about anything he’s doing. I found him very supportive and very easy to work with,” Densley said.

Devashrayee, however, recognizes the unfortunate reputation that has at times been leveled at the legal profession.

“I would be naive to say there aren’t lawyers who aren’t behaving like they should, but I think that’s true in every profession,” Devashrayee said.

According to Devashrayee, lawyers hold an important role for people who are powerless to help themselves.

“People see the value of having a good, honest lawyer. They may not want to hire a lawyer, but they want to have a competent and effective lawyer on their side when the need arises,” he said.

Devashrayee had a long list of advice for upcoming law students at BYU, including eating well and getting sufficient rest.

“It’s really tempting to study so much and just be exhausted. That can be counterproductive,” Devashrayee said. “You do have to study hard, put in the time, do what it takes, and you will be successful.”

Devashrayee’s message to students is that despite all the training required, the profession is worth it in the end.

“It’s rewarding to come up with ways to help your client the best way possible. To come up with a solution, to get a victory in the courtroom, it’s very rewarding. It makes all the schooling and all the hard work worthwhile,” Devashrayee said.

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