You are right I am not an expert in the legal field I am a first year law student and can only speak about my personal experience. When I was deciding between law schools I was stupidly caught up in the rankings, granted I was not deciding between Harvard and Yale. Rather Michigan State, Gonzaga, and Golden Gate. MSU and Gonzaga are higher ranked the GGU, how U.S. news came to that conclusion I don't know. What makes Gonzaga 100 and GGU 132??? it is beyond me. However, I was really caught up in the rankings though and nearly made a horrible decision. Had I gone to either of those higher ranked schools, my fiance would have been out of luck for job prospects in East Lansing or Spokane. Instead we moved to SF and she has a GREAT JOB! and it has made financing way easier. I also had no desire to live in either Michigan or Washington post graduation. I am sure had I gone to MSU I probably could have gotten a job somewhere in Michigan where I have no desire to live. Had I gone to Gonzaga I probably could have gotten a job in Washington, but I love California and it is where I want to live. Employers in the Bay won't care that I went to the 100th best school that they never heard of, opposed to a school ranked slightly lower in their immediate area. The professors and career services at Golden Gate have connections in San Francisco. They don't have much pull outside of the Bay, but the Bay is where I want to live and I think that is pretty much what you fill find at any T-4 school.
I agree the recession is certainly having an effect on the legal market, particularly BIG LAW. People are trying to cut costs and most of the times you don't need a Harvard attorney do get what you need. Some people and business would be content to deal with a cheaper attorney who went to a T-4 than a Stanford attorney charging 3 times as much. I have met a a lot of solo practitioners and small firm GGU alum and they are doing fine. Obviously, they are not making 300,000 a day or anything, but they are surviving doing a job they like in an area they want to live. They will not sit on the U.S. Supreme Court or be the next President and I think they realized that when they went to a tier 4.
Certainly BIG LAW is more concerned than ever with reputation, but even if you go to Harvard and so on at least at OMM they weren't really actively recruiting, when I left no matter what school you were going to they were not really hiring. Obviously, I can't speak for BIG LAW everywhere or even other offices of OMM, but just my own personal experience at one BIG LAW firm. I honestly think a lot of the outrageous lifestyle lawyers, bankers, stockbrokers, were living are kind of on the way out, because they are the reason we got into this mess in the first place.
Certainly, there are exceptions and I am sure there are people who have recently been hired at a BIG LAW firm. I am not trying to say it is not possible, just harder than usual and people considering law school, should focus more on location than ranking. The main reason is that unless you are in the T14 you are probably going to work in your school's location. As you said I am a first year law student and I have not tested the waters at all and I don't go to a T-14 so I could be completely wrong. They are just my observations on my limited experiences.