Words of Wisdom

Ken Allen, Senior Counsel

Silicon Valley EES Team


When I was eight years old, I tried a juvenile scientific experiment that went wildly awry. Following the example of the Lone Ranger in the romantic and hypnotic media of the day, I threw a handful of bullets into a fire to see and hear the results. The shells burst with a loud report. I was startled to find that I had been shot in the head. The bullet slashed through the flesh of my ear, barely missing my right eye. Ever since, I have been by nature a cautious risk taker and a skeptic of all media. And it taught me the fragility of life.


Caution, perspective and stability are among the marks of a good law practice and a rewarding life. Some people learn that lesson early. Others don’t. Over the years attorneys have been enamored by reports of the purported successes of Brobeck, Howrey, Darby, Lyon, Petit, Pennie and others as practices to be emulated. Pursuit of much more modest and sober paths to success has proven to be wise, as those competitors collapsed and lawyers unexpectedly departed, burned out or died.


A profession is a means to an end and not an end in itself. That is clear in patent practice, where it seems a patent prosecutor is able to make exciting technology sound deathly boring. Inventors come believing their dreams will be fulfilled if they can only patent their invention. Yet for every reported success, scores of failures are strewn across the battlefield of Silicon Valley. Case in point: Steve Jobs, often touted as a paradigm of success. Jobs and his engineers once interviewed a couple of us Townsend attorneys for the NeXT Computer patent work. During the interview I was asked about an attorney’s role. I explained that any attorney should provide independent advice to help preserve rights and keep the client out of trouble. His engineers wanted to hire us, but Jobs vetoed us, exclaiming, “I cannot control that Ken Allen!” From the world's most notorious control freak, that was a compliment. Not long after Townsend was not hired, NeXT failed.


Someone once told me, “You know you are on the road to success if you would do a job and not get paid for it.” For four decades I have held only this one job, and I continue to enjoy it, taking pride in quality work, even in its tedium. There is also life outside this tiny universe. Together with my wife of 42 years, I have served in numerous volunteer roles and maintained a grateful and abiding faith in a higher power as part of personal identity. We have watched our five children, living in the same modest home that we bought before I knew I had passed the bar, intentionally deprived of the trappings of wealth in our materialistic community, grow into successful, self-sufficient and well-adjusted adults to serve others--in law, engineering, entertainment, sales, medicine, and in their own faith communities. And on 13 March 2013 our lucky 13th grandchild was born! What greater joy is there?