I am in the EXTREME minority, and will be undoubtedly flamed up and down this board, but I turned down a T-14 spot for a T3 full ride. However, I had some unique factors in that I am a bit older, had a wife that could not easily move and I would be fine ending up in the small state that my school is in. Also, my school has a strong specialty program that I was also very interested in. Now that 1-L is over, I am at the very top of my class and am beginning to start my job search. I found the single largest factor in doing well on 1-L exams was writing ability. The best writers in my class are all at the top of the class. It may not be fair, but when a prof sits down and starts reading a well-written exam, there is a strong bias toward that student - small mistakes are overlooked and positive assumptions made. There is also a very strong correlation at my school between LSAT and class rank. I don't know if this is common at other schools, but it is a clear delineating line here.
It will be interesting to see how my job prospects shake out, but I am not overly concerned. I have little debt and will have a lot of flexibility as a result. I am very happy with my choice and urge everyone to take into account all the various factors that should go into a serious decision such as school choice.
For many students, "take the top ranked" is the answer, but that is largely a function of the relatively homogenous pool of this forum. If you are young, dead-set on BigLaw with few obligations and willingness to follow the money wherever it may lead, that advice is often solid. But for those of us who don't fit the mold, the decision is more nuanced.
Thanks for your story. It seems to me that you have hit the nail on the head re: the types of people on this board, and even with regard to how you chose your school. I think that for many non-traditional students (myself included) the idea of a T14 and BIGLAW isn't all that glamorous. This is especially true if you have a spouse and/or children. Sometimes, people honestly just want to be lawyers no matter the path to getting there.
On another note, I hope that you are right when it comes to the correlation b/t writing, LSAT scores, and being at the top of the class. Like most people here (even though I am not aiming for BIGLAW and am not at a T14), I would still like to be at the top of my class. I guess I can post back here next summer and let you know how that all panned out for me!!! hahaha
I just want to shout out to all the MILS and DILS out there, too. It takes courage to take on law school and be a parent all at the same time!