OP here. THANK YOU for such thoughtful responses!
LurkerTurnedMember wrote: Pick the firm that fits what you're looking for in geographical area, pay, practice area, clients, co-workers, and exit options. It seems like the NorCal firms are what you're looking for.
When you put it like that, without the explicit emphasis on prestige, it becomes pretty clear to me that I prefer NorCal.
rpupkin wrote:...your NorCal options aren't great for someone interested in general lit. Fenwick and Cooley have great corporate practices and solid IP lit, but neither is particularly strong for general commercial lit in NorCal. As lolwat suggested, Orrick is the best of the three for general lit, though it might be hard to avoid IP entirely there.
The draw of Kirkland and Latham isn't their vault rankings or prestige; rather, it's the fact that their LA offices have sizable general lit practices.
^ This was a tough perspective for me to reconcile for some time, because I'm currently under the (feasibly misguided) impression that I prefer general commercial lit to securities/employment lit. (WSGR/Cooley/Fenwick DO seem to have great securities lit practices.) The possibility of closing a beautiful door on commercial lit kinda freaked me out. But I'll take my chances, because these firms' commercial lit departments are still highly ranked in CA on Chambers, and I can always lateral if I want a more robust commercial lit practice. All the other factors just seem to scream NorCal, and I honestly don't know enough about my commercial preference to dive into a less-than-preferable market for it.
Again, thanks a ton, everyone. My wife and I thought there were some great points. What's more, you've partially helped me overcome the prestige-whore mentality of the profession.