For decades Richard Nixon has received credit and blame for all kinds of occurrences. Here’s another one: Wesley D. Blakeslee’s switch to a career in law, including years as a general counsel for Johns Hopkins University.
“From the time I was a child I wanted to be an engineer,” Blakeslee said. He majored in engineering at Penn State University in the mid-1960s and participated in a NASA co-op program. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1969 — the year Nixon was inaugurated. Because of his time in the co-op program he was able to get a job as an engineer and systems analyst at NASA despite a hiring freeze.
Soon Blakeslee was designing and writing real time operating systems for spacecraft testing and post-launch control and managing a programming group. He was “pretty far up the food chain,” his career off to a flying start.
But there was Nixon, looking down on NASA and government technology programs in general, Blakeslee said. “Nixon disliked technology,” he said, and saw NASA as a holdover of former archrival John F. Kennedy’s. The president was going to gut NASA, the young engineer feared.
So, Blakeslee set his sights on another career in which the logical thinking of engineering also was crucial: the law. He began attending the University of Maryland School of Law at night, graduating in 1976.
Semmes, Bowen and Semmes hired the former engineer as an associate; he practiced technical litigation and managed the clerical and paralegal staffs. Two years later he became a partner with Dulany and Davis. And, he prepared “Understanding Computers: A Primer for Attorneys” for the 1982 state bar winter meeting.
Blakeslee had stayed active in law school activities. He worked on the law school’s first telethon, in the basement of the building, and was appointed to the alumni board. When the school wanted to build a networked computer system for its faculty and students “They contacted me,” he said. He began to design the largest such law school network in the country.
In 1983, while waiting for the school’s budget to include a full-time position for him, he started his own law practice, which today is known as Blakeslee & Wallace, in Westminster; he remains an advisory director. Blakeslee worked days as the firm’s CEO and nights on the computer network, “a friend of the law school” who enjoyed working with the faculty.
Soon Blakeslee was the law school’s full-time director of computer development. Once the network was completed he was responsible for the development of applications and management of the support staff.
Feeling the urge to teach, he created one of the first computer law courses. The field was new, and nothing comparable to the Internet existed for research, so he read other schools’ catalogs to find out what textbooks they used. Blakeslee’s course became a popular UM elective “with good, lively discussions.” Back then, most of the cases that came down involved disputes over uses of computers in large businesses, he said. Now, computer discovery, consumer issues and cybersecurity are common topics in such classes.
In the late 1980s Blakeslee took a role in MICPEL and began 12 years of serving on the board of directors of Union National Bank. He had gained experience running a business after a client filed for Chapter 11 protection. He basically ran the business for two years, he said, winning in court and getting lenders paid in full while turning a profit.
Early in 1999 Johns Hopkins University hired Blakeslee as an associate general counsel, practicing intellectual property and complex business law. His experience came in handy, he said, when in his first 30 days in the position he used almost everything he’d learned in his previous jobs. Taking the Hopkins position was, he said, “a chance to work with best of the very best. … We attract people who maybe could make more on the outside, but you get a very rewarding career.”
“What Hopkins gave me was the chance to concentrate on what I enjoy most,” he said.
Working as an in-house counsel has advantages over working for or running a firm, Blakeslee said: “You don’t have to go out and look for clients” and “you don’t have to worry about making payroll. It’s kind of nice to have a paycheck deposited every two weeks.”
Blakeslee sees great value in the experience of running a firm: “If you can’t make payroll every two weeks, you shouldn’t be in a position to order people around.” For better or worse, “even if you don’t like some kind of work, you have to learn how to do it — it’s what every business does,” he said.
Since 2006 Blakeslee has been executive director of the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer. He relies on his background in technology, business and the law to manage the office, which markets and licenses JHU intellectual property. The office decides the value of discoveries and whether they can be developed, then seeks partners with the expertise and funding to turn them into products. A university heavily involved in federally funded research, as is Hopkins, must protect its and the inventors’ work with patents, he said. Most of the inventors are faculty members or grad students or postgraduates.
While Blakeslee emphasized the value of attorneys and other professionals who pursue a narrowly focused career, he doesn’t regret his approach. “If you’re a lawyer and you think about a different approach to your career, there are lots of opportunities,” he said.
Wesley D. Blakeslee
Education: B.S., engineering, Penn State; J.D., University of Maryland School of Law School.
Resides in: Carroll County
Daily commute: 34 miles
Most recent vacation: Orlando/Disney with the kids and grandkids.
Favorite books: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins; “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand; “Chesapeake” by James A. Michener; “Deliverance” by James Dickey.
Most recently read: “Valley Forge” by Newt Gingrich
Favorite foods: Pizza; Maryland crabs; prime rib.
Hobbies: Golf; hunting; reading, working in my shop.
Most memorable professional experience: Lecture tour in Australia.
Favorite quotation: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
What I like best about my current position: Challenging; rewarding — helps fulfill the mission of one of the world’s greatest universities “to bring the benefits of discovery to the world.”
Most rewarding extracurricular activity: Personal — Babysitting the grandkids. Professional — Teaching.
Local hero: Aris Melissaratos