Every fall, plenty of lawyers have an opinion about football. The difference is that Clete Blakeman’s opinion matters. That’s because Blakeman delivers his decisions straight from the field in his role as a professional football official for the NFL. During the week, Blakeman represents plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death cases as a partner at Carlson & Burnett in Omaha, Nebraska. On football-season Sundays, however, he leads an officiating crew of seven as they call games that range from preseason openers to the Super Bowl. A former college player—he was backup quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the ‘80s—Blakeman started refereeing during law school and never stopped. Now, about 30 years later, he’s on top of his game, approaching his positions in the legal field and on the playing field with equal passion and precision.
Q. You’ve been called a referee who listens rather than dictates. Listening to your clients also is critical in law. Is listening a skill that you’ve consciously developed?
A. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort; it just kind of developed over the years. I do think listening is an undervalued component of communication. I don’t have all the answers, so I try to take everything in—whether it’s with my clients, judges or my crew on Sundays. To me, it’s part of respecting the person you’re communicating with: I’ll listen to you; I’ll hear what you’re saying; and I expect the same thing—that you’ll respect what I am saying. It’s an evaluation process.
Read more from Jenny B. Davis about Clete Blakeman.
Attribution: Contributed photo; gallery produced by Andy Lefkowitz.