Meet The Rainmaker - Sally Abel

by Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
Presented by the Women Rainmakers
May, 2007
Name: Sally Abel
Employer: Fenwick & West
Practice area: Partner, Intellectual Property Group & Chair, Trademark Group
Location: Mountain View, CA
Email address:

Sally Abel is an internationally renowned trademark lawyer. She is Founder & Chair of the Trademark practice of Silicon-Valley-headquartered Fenwick & West and advisor to clients including Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems. She has won numerous awards, including being named one of the 16 top trademark practitioners in the world by "Who's Who Legal 2005."
Favorite Rainmaking Tips
I have three:
  • Make your clients your friends by developing personal as well as working relationships with them.
  • Be flexible and open to new opportunities - you never know what's going to work - I speak all over the world, teach, do a lot of professional committee work, write, sit on a museum board- try lots of avenues for rainmaking.
  • Focus on service to clients, service to individuals in the client companies, and service in the legal community - what I call "service cubed."
Best Career Advice
Seize your opportunities even if you can't see where they will lead. This gets back to flexibility. I got jury trial experience on a patent litigation during my first year of practice which led to the firm asking me to develop a trademark practice from the ground up - I wouldn't have had that opportunity if I had said "I don't do patents" when the trial came up.
Percentage of Time Devoted to Marketing
Close to a third of my time including teaching, speaking, writing, committee work, and specific client pitches.
Proudest Accomplishments
  • Building a tremendous team of lawyers and paralegals, many of whom have been with me for years
  • Being named one of the top three trademark lawyers in the world in 2001
  • Sitting on the IAHC in 1996, an 11-person international body deciding the fate of the Internet Domain Name System
What has been your greatest frustration about trying to get new business or new clients?
Public speaking has its drawbacks. It is great for getting your name out and building a reputation, but often you may just be educating your competitors to better serve their clients rather than bringing in new clients.
If you were mentoring a young woman lawyer, what advice would you give her regarding rainmaking?
  • Be patient - it takes a long time to develop clients.
  • Be entrepreneurial - take risks.
  • Try everything - speak, write, be involved in committees, etc.
  • Be an excellent lawyer - you must be someone others seek out for the right answers.
How is legal practice different now compared to when you started?
I'm fearful that the Incredible push toward specialization at a very early stage results in women leaving the practice because they get pigeonholed early and don't see the opportunity to move into other practices.
List words that best describe you
Accomplished, driven, bright, intense, personable.
Choice for an alternative career?
Goat farmer and goat cheese maker
Anything else?
Women lawyers can have both a satisfying practice and a life outside the office. It may mean you sometimes are booked or double-booked 24/7, but it's never boring.
Interview by Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
ABA Women Rainmakers is a national forum enabling women to network and develop business opportunities. By understanding how to develop business, women can exert greater control over their careers and integrate their personal lives successfully with the practice of law. For more information on LPM Women Rainmakers, visit
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