Profiles in Practice: Frank Aba-Onu

THL Profiles

Uzodima Franklin (Frank) Aba-Onu describes his life’s journey as a winding path. Aba-Onu is African American with dual citizenship in Nigeria and the United States. He grew up in New Jersey and attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, graduating with a double major in classical studies and history. 

At DePauw, he was accepted into the Media Fellows program where he was part of a cohort of 20 students immersed in film, radio, television, and photography. Aba-Onu appreciated the 1:1 attention at DePauw and the creativity and freedom to explore his passion for film. Aba-Onu combined this interest with his love of travel and adventure and filmed a documentary in Europe while a student at DePauw.

Even though he loved the film industry, Aba-Onu knew it was a difficult field in which to find steady paying work. Law school was always his backup plan; Aba-Onu thought he could mix film and law and practice entertainment law. While on an archeological dig study tour in Turkey, his classical studies advisor recommended the University of St. Thomas Law School. The rest is history. Graduating cum laude, he said, “St. Thomas gave me a different dynamic of what being a lawyer means—humanizing the profession to make it a vocation instead of a job.” 

While in law school, Aba-Onu’s path included two clerkships which provided invaluable experience. After graduating from law school, Aba-Onu worked as an associate attorney at Aafedt, Forde, Gray, Monson & Hager, practicing workers’ compensation, and general liability defense. Aba-Onu then moved to the Minnesota Office of the Attorney General where he gained public sector trial experience as an assistant attorney general in the public safety and human services divisions. He is currently a shareholder at Bassford Remele, focusing his practice in the areas of employment, professional liability, and general liability matters. 

Aba-Onu said he loves “the people, the vibe, and the opportunity to pick my own path in three areas of law.” He enjoys being able to do impactful work and appreciates the opportunity for self-improvement and self-exploration. He thrives because of the variety of his work, the robust client contact, and working together proactively with clients to solve problems. 

Hidden enemies lurk along every path. Aba-Onu’s invisible enemy is a voice that sometimes asks him if he’s good enough. When this unwanted voice appears, he reminds himself that he has earned what he has, and that he belongs in the room, and at the table. To overcome this momentary self-doubt, Aba-Onu takes stock of what he has done, appreciates his accomplishments, and gets feedback from a variety of people so he has an accurate understanding of how he stacks up in his profession. Aba-Onu finds it comforting to know that some of the most amazing attorneys he’s met have had “impostor syndrome” thoughts, too. 

Aba-Onu is grateful to the many people along his path who supported him both personally and professionally—he is hesitant to single out any one individual who has influenced him the most. When pressed, he said his middle brother Jeff has been a strong positive influence. Aba-Onu admires his brother’s ability to make good decisions in life and appreciates his encouragement to learn, to ask the right questions, and to use curiosity to help shape his path. Aba-Onu also appreciates the black attorneys and judges in the community who gave him advice and shared stories that helped shape them and their careers. “I’m thankful to be surrounded by people I trust, who are honest with me and tell it straight, but who also have my back and go to bat for me when needed.” In addition, Aba-Onu leans heavily on the support and encouragement that he receives from his wife, Danielle. As someone who is not in the legal profession, Danielle grounds him and helps him to become a better person. 

According to Aba-Onu, diversity is important to the success of every organization—diversity improves the bottom line and makes the workplace better. An environment that fosters empathy, listening, and working together proactively creates a workplace where people can challenge each other to be better; a workplace where people desire to be. These elements need to be more common in the legal profession.

The importance of diversity has driven Aba-Onu to become involved in the Federal Bar Association. He appreciated the work of the dedicated lawyers and judges and the collaboration of the FBA’s Diversity Committee to provide intentional programming that encourages learning and awareness of how to increase the pipeline of diverse attorneys. He has been impressed by the buy-in from the court and the civic-mindedness of the judges.

No matter where Aba-Onu’s path takes him in the future, the legal profession is better off because of his curiosity, his willingness to listen and understand, and his dedication to helping people. 

by Jewelie Grape

jewelie@jgrapelaw.com 

Jewelie Grape, attorney/owner of J.Grape Law, provides timely, well-informed, and practical legal advice to companies and nonprofit organizations on matters related to employee benefits, human resources, and other important business issues. She enjoys working with clients to provide advice specifically tailored to meet their needs. Grape is a past president of the HCBA.