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.

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