"So, do rankings matter? Yes, especially at the top. But as others have stated, once you get into the great blurry mass of the other 190 or so schools that are not elite, you better prioritize cost and location over rankings."
I completely agree with this. At this point, I'm continuing the thread because it's better than Russian spam.
A few points I would like to emphasize- when I worked in BigLaw, I looked at my incoming class of associates. In all the offices, there were four (four!) associates from outside the T14. One from UCLA (in the LA office). One from George Washington. Two (including myself) from other top 50 schools.
There were 14 Harvard grads. That means that Harvard, alone, placed more than three times as many graduates into my BigLaw firm as associates as did every other school from 15 on.
Next, regarding the City Attorney position raised by CityLaw; I agree that know local government will fly you out to interview; on the other hand, your chances of getting hired increase exponentially if you are Harvard grad. One of my friends (Harvard Grad) couldn't hack BigLaw, and left after a year. She went on to work cases in the local city government. Her pedigree, as opposed to accomplishments to date, got her the job. That's neither right nor wrong, but rather a fact of life. Sure, once you have proven yourself in practice, your law school will fade away (except for the academic track if you want to be a professor). But that takes a while. A T14 degree will open a lot of doors.
I am not sure what to make of the transvestite/gay comment re: HYS, as it appears based on somewhat outdated stereotypes. Harvard, to use one example, is among the most progressive schools in the nation, with an active LGBT community (at least, it was according to the people I knew who were a part of it).
I do agree with the second career bit from Citylaw; if you're much past the age of 30, it will be much harder to get the type of job to help you pay down the debt that a T14 school will give you. That goes to the question of whether it's a sound investment, but I would also question why someone would want to attend law school at 44 unless they are already financially secure and this is more of an intellectual exploration / desire to explore a second career that they can take or leave.
Finally, I would ask that Citylaw post some more thoughts about hanging out the shingle (becoming a sole practitioner). One of the ongoing issues in legal practice is how difficult it is for new attorneys to begin practice without experience, as law school is not a great way to gain experience... this has been an ongoing topic of conversation in my state bar. Simply put, absent a close network of people that you can rely on for advice, as well as community connections that you have prior to law school (clients!), and an entrepreneurial spirit, I would never recommend hanging out your shingle to begin with, but instead working, for at least a year or two, with a small practice or as a prosecutor/PD (litigation experience). Had I hung out my shingle to start with, I know I would have been committing malpractice. But, again, I am risk adverse, and I know that various state bars are trying to help with this problem.