There are questions all the time about the differences between law firms in various prestige / vault / profitability / whatever tiers, and it's always one TLS has struggled a bit to answer. I think this article does a good job of breaking it down into numbers and business terms that make it a bit easier to comprehend the forces at work in the market. It's a bit "advanced" (if I had read it a year ago it would have been close to an 'all greek to me' situation) but it paints a pretty solid picture of what the actually meaning of a difference in notional 'prestige' of firms is. This quote especially seems to sum it up:
After listening to firms describe their work, we've concluded that the market divides into five categories:
• Critical strategic work: a deal of a lifetime, a subpoena to the CEO;
• If you want us, you'll pay our fees: The client needs a law firm's imprimatur;
• Important operations support that the client can't manage in-house;
• Ordinary operations support that the client can't manage in-house; and
• Commodity work that is more efficient to outsource.
Virtually every firm would like to live and work in the first two categories, which, by the way, are no longer immune to price pressures. By our estimates, those premium-priced categories account for about one-third of the market, or $28 billion. We believe that all Am Law 200 firms get some of this premium work; there are too many good lawyers with good clients in a splintered market for that not to be true. We also include in the premium category contingency scores.
Based on the financial results we've reviewed, it seems that the best billing work goes disproportionately to the most profitable firms.
As law students, whatever this means really collapses to (1) what will it be like to WORK at the firm and (2) what will our prospects both at (stability, progression) and after (exit opportunities, partnership odds) which aren't directly addressed by the article. Still, interesting perspective and good concrete information.