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These Are The Real-Life Events That Inspired 'Suits'

"Suits" is a work of fiction, but it turns out there's a lot more to the story that's drawn from showrunner Aaron Korsh's life than you'd think.

By Tyler McCarthy
Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) appears in Season 7 Episode 13 of Suits

The characters on “Suits” always seem larger than life, the kind of people who can only exist on a dramatic, high-stakes TV show. However, it turns out there’s a bit of of real-life truth to Mike Ross’ story which is at the heart of the series. 

When the show opens, Ross, played by Patrick J Adams, is in a sticky situation when he gets roped into a marijuana deal that’s actually a police sting operation. To escape, he ducks into a law office where Harvey Spectre (Gabriel Macht) is looking for a new hot-shot lawyer to join his firm. Impressed by Ross’ gumption, quick thinking, eidetic memory, and deep understanding of law — despite having no law degree — he hires him as a… well, fraud. What ensues is nine seasons of keeping that secret, dealing with the fallout, and exploring the cutthroat world of New York law. 

RELATED: Prince Harry Says He Really Didn't Like Meghan Markle's 'Suits' Sex Scenes

The story seems so far-fetched it must be a complete work of fiction, right? Well, it is. However, although no one we’re aware of has undergone the same journey of fraud and legal success as Ross, series showrunner Aaron Korsh brought a lot of his real-life experience into “Suits,” including some surprising key details that make the show what it is. 

When Korsh first wrote the pilot of “Suits,” it was set in the world of finance, not law. That's because he was drawing from his time in business school as a finance major. After graduation, he worked on Wall Street as an investment banker for, believe it or not, a man named Harvey.

He wasn’t passionate about investment banking but he had a unique set of skills that impressed people in that world, namely Harvey. 

“I had a good memory, and I had a dalliance with marijuana,” he told Collider in 2016. “A lot of the basis for the show is from that. But I found that very unsatisfying, as a career, and ended up leaving. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and then, ultimately, came to Los Angeles, not to be a writer, but just to live here. I had some friends that were writers, and then I decided that I wanted to try to do it.” 

However, early iterations of the “Suits” pilot didn’t include the legal world. So, Mike wasn’t hustling money by taking the LSAT for people. He was just a smart guy using his brain to make his way. 

“When he gets hired, it’s basically the same,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2011. “It was interesting because when it’s Wall Street, he was only faking going to Harvard, he wasn’t faking a law degree. To work on Wall Street, to be a mathematical genius, there is no degree you need to have whereas to practice [law], you need to pass the bar. We decided to embrace and use it.”

So, the elements of faking something as robust as a legal degree and living life as a fraud actually came later once Korsh started working on “Suits.”

In that interview with Collider he explained that, despite working as a writer in Los Angeles for years and undergoing a showrunner training program through the Writer’s Guild, it was his first time helming a TV show. He still felt like he’d conned his way there. Like his main character, his early days were marked by constantly feeling like he was a second away from being discovered as unqualified. However, as the show went on, he learned despite his apparent shortcomings, he was born for this work. 

“I think it was the first day on set, shooting the pilot, and inside I was like, ‘What am I doing here? I’m a fraud,” which is the basis of Mike being a fraud,’” he explained. “Inside, I absolutely felt like that, no doubt about it. On the other hand, when I would see something, I’d be like, ‘Look, I think it should be this way.’ It wasn’t that I knew what I was talking about, better than anyone else. But, what I knew was that it came from me and I have a thought about how it should be done.” 

Korsh concluded: “I was like, ‘Look, I don’t know if I’m right or not, but if this thing fails and we did what I thought we should do, I can live with myself. But if it fails and I listened to someone else telling me to do something against what my insides were screaming at me to do, I would never forgive myself for that.’”

Nine seasons and a spinoff later, it’s clear Kosh wasn’t the fraud he feared he was. Today, "Suits" is still a fan-favorite USA Network original series with many who still highly regard it and even want more

Catch up on every episode of “Suits” on Peacock now. 

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