Associate Advice, Bar Exams, Biglaw, Sex, Small Law Firms, Women's Issues

Size Matters: Small-Firm Spinsters, I Have Good News

Did you miss me? It has been a few weeks since I last laid down some knowledge on all my small-firm peeps. I was busy studying for, taking, and hopefully passing the California bar exam. During my time trapped in the Oakland Convention Center, I reached out to attorney hopefuls to see what issues they cared about for future articles. They all said the same thing: getting a job. Well, except for one person. A mousy girl who ate homemade ham sandwiches during the lunch break and sat alone near the garbage wanted to know how to land a man. Apparently, she did not think she had a decent chance of passing the bar (or was not actually taking the bar, but instead trying to pick up a lawyer — in which case, bravo, girlfriend).

I cannot really offer any more advice about how to find a job other than networking, networking, and going on informational interviews. Oh, and occasionally allowing yourself a good cry. I can, however, offer some priceless advice for how to get married thanks to a recent New York Times article. Unfortunately for Bar Poser Lookin’ For Love, the advice will not help her find a lawyer husband. It will, however, help her find a husband if she goes on to be a lawyer.

Let’s get to it….

It is a common gripe among educated women — including small-firm lady lawyers — that it’s harder for them to find a mate than either their male counterparts or less educated sisters. There is a long-held belief that women should marry up, men should marry down, and unmarried women over 40 should just give up. I learned that this belief was central to Biglaw management’s model to retain women. During one of my womens’ mentorship circle meetings back when I was a Biglaw associate, one of the more senior women in the circle explained it as follows:

The lawyers here prefer to hire unmarried women. They realize that after working all the time, these women will begin to look haggardly and grow bitter. They will not have time to go out on dates. They will never marry or have children. Consequently, they are able to stay with the firm longer and bill more hours. And they won’t be asking for work-life balance, because they have no lives to balance.

I fear that she told us young associates too much, because she never came back to another mentorship circle meeting.

According to Stephanie Coontz, however, The Oracle from my mentorship circle and all the others are wrong. She explains:

The[re] . . . has been a historic reversal of what the economist Elaina Rose calls the “success” penalty for educated women. By 2008, the percentage of college-educated white women ages 55 to 59 who had never been married was down to 9 percent, just 3 points higher than their counterparts without college degrees. And among women 35 to 39, there was no longer any difference in the percentage who were married.

Not only do educated women have better chances now of getting married, they are more likely to have successful marriages:

[C]ollege-educated women, once they do marry, are much less likely to divorce. As a result, by age 30, and especially at ages 35 and 40, college-educated women are significantly more likely to be married than any other group. And according to calculations by the economist Betsey Stevenson, an educated woman still single at age 40 is much more likely to marry in the next decade than her less educated counterparts.

Yes, my friends, it’s a miracle! Before you insist that these results are too good to be true, I admit there is a catch. These educated women are marrying less educated men. Yet, this new model for marriage (i.e., female breadwinners) is not necessarily a bad thing. To the contrary, “marrying down” has two important benefits: the men tend to pitch in more around the house, and the couples have better sex.

Yes, educated ladies know how to work the bedroom as well as they work the boardroom.

[E]ducated wives also get better sex, whatever their partner’s educational level, according to the sexuality researchers Pepper Schwartz and Virginia Rutter. They are more likely to receive as well as give oral sex, to use a greater variety of sexual positions and to experience orgasm regularly.

So, what is the take away from all of this? If you are looking for a good romp in the sheets, go for a small-firm lawyer. Just think, if college-educated ladies are freaks in the sheets, then J.D.s must be CRAZY. Small-firm spinsters who want to get married have hope. How? Do they need to lose weight, work less, be pleasant, or anything else that conventional wisdom suggests? If they are over 40, do they need to purchase a husband from the Ukraine? No. They just need to change their criteria for selecting a spouse.

These educated ladies need to get over the fairytale of Mr. Big and focus on Mr. Mom and Mr. Clean. This does not, however, mean that small-firm ladies have to settle. Research shows that women who “marry down” have more successful and fulfilling relationships. In other words, while we may not be able to marry the male associates at our firm (unless we try some of these tricks), who wants to marry a male lawyer anyway? (Sorry guys.) Or, as Coontz put it, “[f]ew women really want to marry a man whose penis rises and falls in tandem with the size of his paycheck or the prestige of his diploma.”

The M.R.S. and the Ph.D. [New York Times]

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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