On the whole, job prospects tend to get worse the deeper you go into the law school rankings. That tends to demonstrate that it is, in fact, the schools, rather than the individuals.
A contrarian viewpoint would be that the dismal job prospects faced by graduates of lower-tiered schools are more reflective of the realities of supply and demand than an inadequacy of the schools themselves.
Let's face it: law school is law school is law school. There's only one way to read and interpret Hamer v. Sidway
. All American law schools share a similar first-year curriculum. Students can then differentiate themselves by course selection, extracurricular activities, and internships in the second and third years. But even this preparation can take one only so far.
The recession forced corporations to rethink how they spent money on legal services. Some 366 corporations, for instance, refused to pay for legal work done by first and second year associates. This phenomenon caused the hiring freezes, which was soon followed by mass layoffs of experienced associates resulting from the downsizing and/or elimination of legal departments within multinational law firms. Many of the laid-off associates, who had valuable legal experience, landed in mid-law and boutique firms ahead of newly-minted attorneys.
Without casting blame on corporations (Biglaw was, in large part, a victim of its own success), their decision to tighten the belt straps has trickled down throughout the entire legal community with disastrous effect. This has left lower-tiered students without many viable options in a contracted legal marketplace.
If this "new normal" is here to stay, as it appears to be, then we need to rethink and reorganize legal education in America. Many of the lower-tiered schools are no longer needed because the supply of new graduates each year now far exceeds the demand for their services. Law firms that once were happy to hire graduates from second-tier schools are now able to pluck kids from the upper first-tier without issue.