Thank you so much for all of your helpful feedback.
In the interview with Brian Leiter on this website, Leiter mentions that certain schools outside of the top 14 are better regarded in academic circles than their US News rankings might suggest, e.g. Florida State, Chicago-Kent, Fordham, San Diego, George Mason, BU, Cardozo, Brooklyn.
Do you have any further insight into this subject? In light of the "brass ring" reality, do you think it would make any difference in terms of academic hiring if a candidate came from one of these schools?
This brings me to another question, what schools do you think are overrated and underrated?
After this one I'm done. Again, good luck to all. It's a great profession and I loved every day I spent in practice as I do in academia.
As to schools and their rankings, I've already identified San Diego as having one heck of a faculty and therefore underrated. But in one sense I'm wrong in the same way Brian is wrong: both he and I like San Diego (and for sure Fla State has a faculty far better than its ranking) but we're assessing the schools along the dimension that matters to us: faculty scholarship. We have no idea how well these professors perform in the classroom. Students (and the local faculty) know better on that score than we do. So for me to say a school is over- or underrated reveals my bias: it's underrated if faculty scholarship were the only thing that mattered. Of course it isn't, and indeed scholarship matters relatively little from a student's perspective. So perhaps San Diego is properly rated along all the dimensions that should matter to students, including instruction, placement, financial aid, etc. I really don't know.
But back to the academic world and the other question raised: as I tried to suggest previously, faculty hiring preferences are pretty rigid. We expect people who want to be a professor to attend the schools that we customarily look to for new hires: Yale, Virginia, Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern, Chicago, Columbia, maybe NYU, maybe one or two others. If you're not going to one of these, you could plan on an LLM (just a year) and that should help a little. (Also an LLM is basically a year to get a good article done so it's a winner all around.) Or you could just plan on not becoming a professor.
I suggest some caution in organizing your entire legal education to pursue the single dream of an academic job. That dream might lead you to turn away great opportunities and substantial financial aid packages in what could easily turn out to be a vain attempt. I've tried (in a previous post) to describe a little of what faculty hiring committees look for in terms of credentials and personal qualities. On both counts the bar is set very high. Accumulating the credentials requires literally years of steadfast dedication just to make yourself eligible, to make that second pile. And then you might not even get an interview, anywhere! There are never more than a small number of jobs open nationwide. Failure happens regularly; people are shocked that their years of careful compilation of a "professor-eligible" resume doesn't produce a single call-back interview. So my basic goal here is to throw a little water on everyone's law prof fire, to suggest you make a frank self-assessment to decide if you have what it takes and are willing to pursue it relentlessly. One word of warning: don't pursue the job for the lifestyle; you have to love the work itself. A desire to improve one's lifestyle will not sustain you over the years of effort it takes.
One final observation: I just looked at the website of a bottom-tier law school where a classmate of mine is on the faculty. I examined the credentials of their untenured or recently tenured faculty, in other words, the newest hires. These young professors graduated from the following law schools: Virginia, NYU, Yale, Yale (with PhD too), Harvard, Harvard, Northwestern, and Michigan. All were law review; all but one had COA clerkships; one was SCOTUS to boot; all but one (the PhD person) worked for major law firms. And that's at the "bottom of the pile" school. See how incredible even the bottom tier faculties are (and why you will get an outstanding legal education even there)? And see how narrow is the path to a prof job?
Best wishes to all.