Johnson Babalola
October 29, 2023

14 Things I Would Tell My Younger Professional Colleague

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Barack Obama (Born 1961), 44th President of the United States. First African American U.S. President.

Dear Younger Professional Colleague:

I have often asked what messages I would send to you now that I am older and hopefully, wiser. My conclusion is that there are many, but for the sake of this short write-up though, let me settle for 14.

1. Mentorship & Networking: Identifying the right mentors who will support you with their time, knowledge, and wisdom. Never forget each one that had supported you at some point or the other along the way. From your teachers, colleagues, religious leaders, business partners, staff, friends, clients, parents and other family members, your professional being has been shaped by their money, words of encouragement and time. They taught you about morals, self-love, professionalism, love of and for others. As you build your career in this profession, you will avoid reputational, regulatory, and professional pitfalls by learning from the successes and failures of others. As minority practitioners, it is important that you walk with guidance and the compass of the experience of those that had walked the paths before you. It is important to have mentors in every aspect of your life and ensure the relationships are deliberately nurtured. Take networking seriously too as that helps to open doors of knowledge and opportunities.

2. Education: Never stop learning. While it is important to be well educated in your area of practice, it is more rewarding to be educated in life issues where you are exposed to and learn from the successes and failures of others. To make a success of your practice and person, it is important to identify and acknowledge the realities you face in your environment and prepare yourself to address them through learning. Join relevant groups to support you as you navigate through your practice life to gain the necessary knowledge and experience, thereby avoiding embarrassing situations.

3. Positive Relationships: While acknowledging that you cannot be a friend to every person you come across, you can be friendly with those that come your way. Never harbor any thought of discrimination towards anyone based on age, religion, class, sex etc. Be trustworthy and trusting but ensure you separate yourself from toxic relationship(s) that will lead you down the wrong path. Getting into the wrong professional relationship may cause you irreparable reputational damage. Be on guard always.

4. Avoid Certain Clients: There are clients you want to avoid. They include those that cannot pay your fees unless you decide to handle the matter pro bono, disrespectful individuals, those that have a history of changing lawyers for no just reasons, the matter is outside of your area of expertise, someone in a close relationship with you, you differ on the legal steps to take, the individual exhibits dishonesty or suggests illegal steps, the individual’s expectation is unrealistic, the individual does not like your race but has come to you because there are no other alternatives, the individual is condescending or disrespectful, the individual does not respect your personal space or time etc. Such clients bring you nothing but heartache and headache.

5. Health: Take care of your physical and mental health. Whether your motivation is to be financially successful, professionally recognized or win every case that you handle, be deliberate in paying attention to your health and try to balance work with adequate rest. Always remember that there is another lawyer next door who will continue from where you had stopped if you are unable to continue due to ill health. So, set boundaries, keep to them, and have your “me” time alone. Health, as they say, is wealth.

6. Family: It is easy to get carried away and neglect one’s family. “In another year, I will have time ..”, many of us would say. Then one year becomes two and more. In a short time, the kids are grown and don’t need you anymore. The spouse is distanced or in some cases, gone. If you don’t pay attention to it, you will find that you are committed to making a success of your law practice and taking care of your clients, members of your extended family and others than your immediate family. You will be in demand from members of your community. You will be invited to religious, social, and other events nonstop. Have a talk with yourself and prioritize your family.

7. Spend Wisely: Don’t invest your hard-earned money based on emotions and the recommendations of others without due diligence. Never enter business relationships with others that will not invest time in the business. Rather invest in businesses you are familiar with, and with individuals that have the same mindset to succeed. Always remember that time waits for no one. Avoid investing in the wrong people and don’t fail to invest in your children, spouse, and self.

8. Positive Outlook: In practice, you will come across situations that may affect you personally. There will be injustice, failures, and questions about your competence. Do not be too hard on yourself and do not take things personally. Have a positive outlook on life and things. Yes, there will be ups and downs, and when you struggle, talk to a trusted person. Don’t suffer alone.

9. Delay: You must love being a lawyer. Otherwise, never delay changing career or areas of practice if you so desire. If your mind is in another profession or area of practice, your current practice will be impacted negatively. It is never late to make changes to one’s career where necessary. Furthermore, in your current practice, ensure you attend to your files promptly. Diarize tasks and check them regularly to avoid missing important deadlines that may cause you disciplinary actions from your regulatory bodies.

10. Agent of Positive Change: Sadly, intra-racism is a major issue within the racialized community. You would have heard various stories including negative treatments of minority clients by minority lawyers and the negative treatments of minority lawyers by minority clients too. There are occasions when minority lawyers are said to unjustly question the integrity of other minority lawyers in the presence of clients, when the impugned lawyers are not present to defend themselves. This is unfair and should be discouraged. Of course, when a lawyer’s professional representation of a client should be justly questioned, it should be done within the parameters of proper professional procedure. Be an agent of change and remain professional to your clients, colleagues, and others always.

11. Five-Year Plan: Unfortunately, many people fail because they don’t make plans for their career progression and personal growth. Aside from putting down where you want to be in five years and the five years thereafter, you detail how you plan to reach your stated goals. Consider your detailed plan from point A to Z taking into consideration the who, how, where, when and which at every stage. Don’t forget to plan for setbacks too, including how to overcome them. The tasks ahead may intimidate or scare you. Relax and start with baby steps with the understanding that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Taking the first step and the next, and the next, will ensure you are on schedule.

12. Leadership & Supervision: It is easy to rely on others to assist in carrying out some day-to-day tasks for you in your business. Knowing that you are eventually responsible for the actions and inactions of your staff, you must show leadership by hiring competent staff and providing them with regular oversight and supervision.

13. Support Others: You probably ask about the ways individuals have extended their support or assistance to you. You may however ask too, how you have been of support to others. Don’t live your life from the self-centric perspectives but always acknowledge the importance of reciprocal relationships, which are not necessarily synonymous with absolute equality, but rather, a shared commitment to one another. You should understand that true relationships should transcend material gain, but rather, must emphasize the value of giving and receiving support mutually.

14. Strengths and Weaknesses: Set your goals and focus on them. Identify your weaknesses and work on addressing them with sincerity, one at a time. Be it communication challenge, procrastination, fear, indecision, lack of confidence, lack of self-esteem and others, you are equipped to overcome them. Once you identify the weaknesses, challenge them with the goal of conquering them cautiously with guidance.

Positively define yourself. Don’t allow others to negatively define you. Wishing you all the best in your career.



Johnson Babalola, a Canada and Nigeria based lawyer, leadership consultant, storyteller and corporate emcee, is a public affairs analyst. Follow him for discussions on real life issues that affect us all.

You can obtain a copy of his newly released book, REJECTED on Amazon, FriesenPress, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Apple Books, Nook Store etc.