I am looking at some Tier 4 schools since that is all I can manage. I have heard some negative, some positive. If I am not looking at going to big law firms and just aspire to my own private practice, am I still at a disadvantage? Some people have tried to discourage me completely while an attorney I know said it really doesn't matter what school you go to, depending on your expectations.
There is no easy answer, here. Or, as any attorney would say, "It depends."
Let's take three "Tier 4" schools (I don't know if they are all Tier 4 currently, but generally have been): UMaine, Suffolk, and Florida Coastal.
These are three very different schools. All of them are "tier 4" in the sense that the applicant pool tends to have lower scores (uGPA + LSAT), they don't have great placements (BigLaw, good firms), and they aren't well-respected nationally.
But they are also very different-
UMaine is the only law school in Maine, and the state law school. If you want to practice in Maine, if you want to be a Maine attorney ... well, it's a fine choice. Maine does have some transplant attorneys (highly ranked New England law schools), but there is nothing wrong with going to State U if you want to practice in that state.
Suffolk is fine if you want to take a job in Boston- not a white shoe job, but one of the other legal jobs in the Boston market (PD, prosecutor, government, smaller firm, etc.).
Florida Coastal, on the other hand, is "classic" Tier 4. For profit, low standards, and competing in an oversaturated legal market. There are 11 law schools in Florida, and it might be the worst. That said, you can still pass the bar, or transfer, or do well out of Florida Coastal!
It's just probabilities. Tier 4 schools give you fewer options. And you have to do better at a Tier 4 school to get an equivalent position than you would at a higher-tier school; your competition might be less, but there is far less margin for error.
As practicing on your own- all you have to do is pass the bar. It is certainly doable, but most people struggle in solo practice without a few reps or some connections.