(Litigator from above.)
That is not at ALL what "primary market" means. "Markets" are cities/regions.
I understand what "markets" mean. My point is that there are a lot more similarities -- in quality of work, pay, hours, etc. -- between the top firms in the big non-NYC cities and the V10 or V20 NYC firms than there are between those non-NYC firms and their smaller same city counterparts. In other words, an associate at Kirkland in Chicago is going to have a lifestyle a lot closer to an associate at S&C in NYC than she is an associate at SNR Denton.
If you are just looking at geographic locations, NYC is a "primary market" all alone. DC, LA, SF, Boston and Chicago are the "secondary" markets. Then you have a bunch of "tertiary" regional markets that have a firm or three that claim to be "national," but they're really not -- they mostly have NYC and DC offices to service their regional business.
I'm curious to know more about your secondary market experience
My experience was/is that the big cases were handled by out-of-town firms with a local firm signed on as local counsel. And you can definitely tell who handles what. That leaves the worse-quality work for the local firms. And going outside the handful of big regional firms, the trash rolls downhill, so at the next level, you're talking really unsophisticated, low dollar cases. (For those who don't know, the low dollar work sucks because you either have to half-ass it, or cut your hours.)
Are you saying that Jones Day and Kirkland people from the midwest are not up to snuff? (not being snarky just trying to clarify)
Absolutely not. I have worked with/against Kirkland attorneys. They are really excellent. I haven't worked with Jones Day, but I know several people there and I suspect they'd be really good too.
I'm not going to name names. Just that I've been consistently surprised by the mediocre quality of work at some of the "tertiary" regional firms described above -- and again, the attorneys have impressive backgrounds, so it's not a garbage-in problem.
Finally, to the person who suggested that biglaw is basically a situation where you are overpaid 70% of the time, but then you (try to) make it up the other 30%, that's probably a good description.