Cynicism sent Jeffrey Tachiki to law school.
He was in an undergraduate class, analyzing a criminal case for an honors seminar on the trial rights of the accused. He told his instructor, criminal defense attorney Ronald Yengich, that the white man who shot four black teens in the 1980s in New York shouldn’t have been acquitted of attempted murder and assault by claiming self-defense. Tachiki recalls feeling embittered—that had a black man shot a bunch of white teens, the result would have been different.
Yengich told Tachiki that he was “too young to be so cynical.” For a final paper, Tachiki was asked to write about why he felt the way he did about the justice system, why, in his words, he felt so cynical. “I had to spend the rest of the term looking at myself and looking at my circumstances. What I discovered is that instead of being resentful about where I grew up—I was born and raised in Utah, non-Mormon, non-white in Utah County no less—I started to think about things that allowed me to say, ‘I may have been [discriminated against] but I’d never want to look at somebody else and judge them because they’re different.’ [I was] really being conscious of biases we all have and being accountable for those biases and consciously making myself fight that all the time.”
That experience of self-reflection, and learning from a lawyer, made him seek a career where he could make a difference. “The idea of justice and the idea of impacting people’s lives individually was interesting, and it called to me.” He graduated from the University of Utah Law School in 2002.
He clerked for Yengich and at another local civil litigation firm during school, and then for Judge John S.W. Lim in the Hawaii State Intermediate Court of Appeals afterward. After moving to San Francisco, he tried civil litigation for a couple of years at a large litigation firm, but hated it. His most difficult and favorite class during law school, basic income tax, made him think about estate planning. So did his time volunteering in a pro se clinic in law school, helping people of lesser means fill out and file divorce paperwork. One client stands out in his memory: “Two months later she came back to the clinic specifically to thank me. It was one of the moments while I was in law school where I really got the fulfillment of what it is we do as lawyers, beyond compensation.”
So he pivoted from civil litigation to estate planning at a couple of boutique firms in the Bay Area. Three years later, Tachiki started his own estate planning firm, in the middle of the Great Recession. After nine years, he was recruited to join his current firm, Perkins Coie, in San Francisco, as Senior Counsel, where he focuses on trust and estate planning and family office services. The pandemic, with its reminders of mortality, and the presidential election, and its attendant policy changes, have only made Tachiki more in demand.
While his experience with litigation focused on the bottom line, Tachiki says his current practice is much more fulfilling and personal. “I really know that I’ve helped someone out at the end of the day when clients tell me they have peace of mind now that there’s a plan in place, or they’ve lost a loved one and I’ve ushered them through this legal mess of their affairs. They say, ‘I never would have been able to do this without you.’ That’s when I know my law school education means something, the time and sweat and effort put in there.”
What also stands out from his time at law school might surprise some: Its diversity: He’s living in a racially and ethnically diverse area, which is great, but it is generally among people who largely share his political beliefs—and it’s a little boring, he says. At school, “People came from so many different backgrounds. There’s obviously the heavy LDS influence there and conservative influence there, in stark contrast to the more progressive nature of a law school,” he says. “It made for a kind of environment where you had to listen to other people’s viewpoints and respect them, even as those viewpoints were often different than your own. It was challenging and fun.”
That’s also the same lesson that led him to law school in the first place.