smaller firms aren't hiring right out of school
I guess I just think it's a bit silly to consider one choice out of many in a vacuum. Offered, in isolation, sex with Jessica Alba, yes, I'd take it. But make that a choice between Jessica Alba on one hand and Scarlett Johansson on the other...
Of course, that's assuming you're going to be having sex with somebody, which is a dubious assumption ITE. If you want BigLaw (or prestigious PI), go to a T17 and pray you're at the top of your class. If you are happy with smaller firms and perhaps maybe regional BigLaw, a lower ranked school is certainly worth considering (especially if you have been networking and/or otherwise have connections to your market of choice). $$$ is a legitimate consideration, and the weight you give it depends on your options and aspirations, IMO.
, and they weren't really even when the economy was stronger. i am not biglaw or bust because i am so excited about signing my soul over to corporate america, but because it is really your best hope of paying your loans off. LRAP-eligable jobs are as hard, if not harder to get. law is not a field with a lot of backup plans if you have significant debt.
This may be true generally, but people can manage their way into small firms. I work at one that just hired two newly minted graduates (one from CCN and the other from another that is barely even in the rankings), and it pays pretty well (it's not BigLaw, but not shabby, all things considered... there are also very
manageable hours here).
On a slight tangent, one thing that has always struck me as odd is that people hoping to go into BigLaw think smaller firms are absolutely terrible. Sure, there are a dime a dozen shingles hung up everywhere, and shitty lawyers are abound. However, you can make some serious bank at a small firm if you are a good businessperson (and hopefully have a little charisma, although even this is not required), which I assume is exactly the sort of personality you would need to thrive and become a partner in BigLaw. I guess BigLaw is the safe option (assuming they get in) for hardworking folks without the business mentality that are willing to go the non-equity partner track. More to the point, I think smaller firms are definitely possible to get into as long as you can sell yourself (and hopefully have been networking your ass off before immediate employment becomes an issue).
In any case, I agree with you for the most part. Debt sucks. However, your strategy seems to be that the number of zeros to your amount of debt doesn't really matter insofar as one is going to the best school possible (within the T14 or T17). I think minimizing that debt is an important, although not overriding, concern. Thinking purely in terms of "all or nothing" just seems a bit odd to me.
Edit: perhaps what is needed on making a choice is an honest assessment of the sort of personality you have and your strengths and weaknesses... If you are highly analytical, but have no savings, WE, and legitimate connections, as well as don't have not much in the way of business acumen or charisma, sticker at <insert school> may be your best choice. I hope we can at least agree that when debating between closely ranked schools, like Michigan vs. Penn, money certainly comes into play.