So I have posted a few things in the past few months about Houston v. SMU v. Baylor. I emailed a friend of a friend, who forwarded my email to a few attorneys at their firm. I'll keep their emails partyly confidential, but they work for a BIGLAW firm in Houston. Here's what they recommended to me... (I also asked their opinion of going to an out-of-state tier 2 school and moving back to Texas upon gradution)...
1. I can't be of much help with the SMU/Baylor/Houston bit as I don't have a good feel for the differences, but I definitely think that if you know you want to practice in Texas and are focusing on second-tier law schools it makes most sense to go with a Texas school. My firm is based in NYC and we hire every year from good second-tier NY schools (such as Brooklyn Law School, New York Law School). We would certainly consider a mail-in application from say Baylor, but we don't recruit on campus, don't have a history of employees from those schools, and generally aren't as able to judge applicants as we are with schools where we have more of a track record. If a firm has a history of hiring people from a certain law school and knows that they're really well trained etc., then the firm will continue to look there, so the whole process feeds on itself. So if you're committed to Texas, I think you'd be better off with a Texas school than Penn State.
2. Our firm, like most of the large law firms in Texas, hires from all Texas law schools (with the possible exception of TSU which has accreditation issues). However, (and I am speaking in very generalizations here as there are always exception based upon unusual circumstances), while we hire from the top 20% of class at Texas, we hire only from the top 15% at UH or Baylor and then only the top 1 or 2 students at South Texas.
We hire extensively at out of state law schools but mostly from the Harvards, Dukes, Michigans, Stanfords, etc of the world. Since we do not interview on campus at our of state tier 2 law schools, it would be unlikely we would run across a potential candidate, but it could happen it that student was at the very top of his or her class. Thus, if you are only considering tier 2 law schools if going out of state to law school, I do believe your prospects for employment with major Texas firms would be diminished.
3. I have a preference toward SMU probably because I went there and am on the Executive Committee of the
law school. We have recently had good hires at Baylor. Houston Law school suffers but generally does ok in the Houston hiring market. I would not recommend a lower tier regional law school outside Texas if your desire is to return to Texas. Hope this helps and good luck.
HOPE YOU FIND THIS AS INTERESTING AS I DID... I am expecting one-two more email responses, Ill post them on here when I get them...