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What would Donna do? Seven lessons learnt from Suits’ Donna Paulsen

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Aspiring lawyer Christianah Babajide thinks there’s plenty law students can learn from the iconic TV character

Image credit: Suits Wiki

Like every other law student with a Netflix subscription, I am obsessed with the US legal drama Suits, and even more obsessed with Harvey Specter’s long-time secretary, Donna Paulsen.

Far from an ordinary assistant, Donna’s sassy attitude, witty personality and smart comebacks make her an icon, plus Donna’s character has taught aspiring lawyers the dos and don’ts of working in a corporate firm. From displaying exceptional problem-solving skills and unwavering loyalty to your boss, to thinking on your feet and having an outstanding memory, solicitors would be wise to take a leaf out of Donna’s book.

And students would be, too. Here are seven lessons you can learn from the amazing Donna.

1. Always be prepared

Donna never approaches a sticky situation without preparing first. This very desirable trait is why Harvey relies on her to supplement his arguments and proofread his work.

Being a law student is no walk in the park, so you need to be prepared. This means always being one step ahead: do your research before a meeting or an important legal event and print off the recommended reading before your tutorial. Remember: ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’

2. Stay cool, calm and collected

Donna approaches every situation with composure — nothing can ruffle her feathers. She’s able to think clearly, focus on solutions and get the job done efficiently, often before Harvey has even asked for her input. So, if something goes wrong or you’re not sure what to do, take a second to pause, breathe and think: What would Donna do? Approaching a situation with a clear head is only going to help, not hinder!

3. Have a sense of humour

When you’re in the office as long as lawyers and their secretaries are, having a good sense of humour is what will get you through the day. Donna’s ability to make friends and form relationships with lawyers stems from her good sense of humour — she doesn’t take herself too seriously. So, loosen up, be it at university, at work or at an event. You never know who you’ll end up cracking a joke with — it may even be your next employer!

4. Be a team player

Donna is the ultimate team player and fiercely loyal to everyone she works with, be it when assisting her colleagues in a mock trial or helping with legal research. In a law firm, you’ll need to be a good team player to reach the best possible outcome for your client, whether in transactions, mediations or arbitrations. The ability to work collaboratively and effectively with others is of fundamental importance to working successfully in law — so start practicing now.

5. Be ready to make sacrifices

There are numerous occasions in Suits where Donna has to make personal sacrifices to prove how seriously she takes her job. Being a good law student means sacrificing your social life to catch up on the reading and writing you need to do. There is little time for fun in law school and you have to accept that to get the best grade possible.

6. Expand your network

Between organising two tickets to the ballet and a dinner with Mikhail Baryshnikov for Louis Litt and finding out the dirt on opposition lawyers for Harvey, there is no information Donna can’t find through her connections. Law students must take every opportunity to network with legal professionals. You never know when that solicitor you met six months ago could help you out with a job.

7. Learn from your mistakes

In season two — spoiler alert — Donna accidentally destroys important evidence for one of Harvey’s cases. As a result, she loses her job, endures a mock trial and (almost) ruins her relationship with her boss.

But she works incredibly hard to get back to where she was, and eventually returns to her position. She remained confident in her abilities to do her job and proved her worth to the firm. We all make mistakes along the way, whether that be in our careers, during our time at university or our personal lives. Don’t beat yourself up! Instead, commit yourself to finding a solution and never lose faith in your ability — there’s a reason why you’re in the role you’re in.

Moral of the story: Be Donna at uni. Be Donna after uni. Be Donna always.

Christianah Babajide is a student at City Law School.

39 Comments

loljk m8

8. Eat your vegetables
9. Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes
10. Always wipe front to back

(37)(2)

Anonymous

Shut up that’s got nothing to do with the article? idiot

(0)(39)

Snoopy

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(2)(2)

loljk m8

I am laughing out loud, friend.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(4)

Top Cat

I’ll say… I really like this; witty & concise, Rare for Legal Cheek journalism mind you!

(14)(5)

Anonymous

its witty and concise because it wasn’t written by one of the legal cheek staff. Just a student.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

I see, but baring Alex, legal cheek staff were students at some point, very bright ones at that. Katie got a first class in her LLB from Bristol & Thomas did the GDL & BPTC …. so what’s your point I’ll wait x

(0)(3)

Law is for type A personalities with small dicks

11. Don’t be like Norma.
12. Remember, firm is your master. You will have no life, friends or romantic relationship.
13. Obey to senior partners.

(15)(0)

Anonymous

It’s Donna dipshit

(0)(14)

CMS trainee

Eat my choad

(1)(0)

Anonymous

*rolls eyes*

Norma was Lewis’ secretary who never appeared on screen. Then she died and Lewis lost his Litt shit.

Know what you’re talking about before you so bravely call someone a dipshit on the internet. Dipshit.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

8. Try and sleep with whoever’s in charge.

(21)(0)

Anonymous

This is the only entry requirement we won’t be flexible with.

(13)(1)

Law student

As if anyone’s applying to jones day lmao

(1)(1)

Anonymous

You’d be surprised… 🍆🍆🍆

(1)(0)

Anonymous

You’re disgusting & you’ll be censored soon, better watch out

(0)(3)

Anonymous

Done

(0)(0)

Law student

Jolly good piece 😉

(2)(2)

Wash n Wear

*Destroy evidence

(10)(0)

Anonymous

Don’t be Pedantic mate.

(0)(3)

Wash n Wear

Said no lawyer ever.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What would Donna do? Demand to be made a senior partner despite having no legal qualifications or no real non-secretarial legal experience. Imagine one of the magic circle firms hiring a secretary to be a senior partner or a COO

(12)(1)

Anonymous

I’d have to see a picture of them first.

(16)(0)

Anonymous

You would be surprised how many non-lawyers who understand how law firms work are now COO’s also with that outlook you are destined to be a 20 year associate… best of luck in your career.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

“When you’re in the office as long as lawyers and their secretaries are…”

Yes, very true and shows a lot of knowledge of the legal industry, I did once see my secretary in the office at 5:01pm.

(23)(0)

Anonymous

iPlayer episode ran over 5:00pm on that day?

(7)(0)

Anonymous

This is very unfair – I used to have a secretary who would get in every day at 8am. The fact that this was solely so she could get a seat on the train in from Romford and she would then watch YouTube videos at her desk for the next 90 minutes (point blank refusing to work if asked) is neither here nor there.

(16)(1)

Anonymous

because your secretary was this way this applies to all secretaries ofc 👍🏻

(0)(2)

Anonymous

That’s not what I wrote, but thanks Sarah – good to see you’re still on Legal Cheek at lunchtimes rather than doing that urgent dictation.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

Loool it’s not Sarah mate *rolls eyes*

(0)(3)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Daniel Hardman

When is there going to be a ‘What would Daniel Hardman do?’ piece?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Who’s Daniel Hartman??

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Racheal and Mike

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Daniel Hartman is two people? *rolls eyes*

I honestly do get bored of trolls commenting inaccurate shit time an opportunity arises.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

every*

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Well written- Wouldn’t surprise me if Donna actually went to City Law School

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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