I just stumbled on this post, and I wished to add something. I currently work for an attorney in TN who went to Santa Barbara College of Law. It is non-ABA accredited, but that hasn't stopped him. However, he ONLY practices immigration, so he can practice in any state. When I was looking at my law school options, I initially wanted to stay here and continue working, so I was thinking about Nashville School of Law, which is also non-ABA. However, non-ABA schools do not qualify for student loan deferment, and I would not be able to afford LS AND my undergrad student loan payment at the same time. Also, I'm hoping to end up in WA, and they would not allow me to sit for the bar.
From what I have seen, it really depends on what you want to do in the future. Many state bars will let you sit for the exam if you meet certain criteria, even if you went to a non-ABA school. I know that TN won't unless you went to one of THEIR non-ABA schools, but most states are more forgiving. When I was looking into it, I found this - --LinkRemoved--. It is a listing of all the state bar requirements.
If you already have a guaranteed job, I would go for the non-ABA school. For one thing, most of those who go to ABA schools will graduate with a ton of debt (I am mentally and psychologically prepared for this), which makes job prospects their highest priority. If you go to a cheaper school and get a job making 30-50k a year, you are in a much better position than than someone graduating from Santa Clara with 80-100k in debt and making 60-80k a year. Especially in this economy, I think that financial security is more important. Heck, with no student debt, it would even be less troubling if you didn't have a job lined up. I know there were many Vandy law grads applying for an 8$ per hour receptionist job we had posted. I would much rather go to Nashville School of Law without going into debt than work for $8 an hour with 100+k in student loans hanging over my head.
Finally, (I know this is the case with Nashville S of L) the professors at some non-ABA schools are very well-connected within the community, and can be very good sources for future employment if you decide to go on to another job. Also, NSL is very well-respected in Nashville, so their grads are usually on equal footing with graduates from Memphis, UTK, or out-of-state schools. NSL graduates are also extremely well-connected because most of them are already professionals in other fields who are going to law school for fun or to enhance their current jobs. I know NSL has a lot of business owners who just want to get a better handle on the law. This could be invaluable in ways that most top tier law school grads don't seem to understand. In the end, connections and ability are the best tools for success in a career.
While a non-ABA law degree may not be as portable as one from Stanford, there is still something to be said for being good at what you do. Not everything is based on where one went to school. Being good in your field, networking, and having a good reputation is definitely more important than your Alma Mater.