Thanks again to those who posted back. I do appreciate it. I started out as Pre-law major in my undergrad but ended up getting a history degree and started teaching and coaching and kept looking at law school but was always consumed with what I was doing at the time. I am still investigating it and considering everything very carefully. I taught and coached a young man who worked extremely hard in the classroom and athletics that graduated from Stanford and UMichigan law school and he told me the reality for someone my age and not going to a top tier law school was massive debt and once you pass the bar if you could find a job you would only start at 50K.
I think there's merit to what he's saying but remember this: those of us in the 4th tier can only guess at what it's like in the first tier. Frankly, those in the first tier are at the same disadvantage when it comes to us.
I remember a friend of mine who went to CWRU and later worked for Jones Day. All during law school she'd say, "if you're not going to a school like CWRU or better, you can't work biglaw." When she started at Jones Day? After a year or so, we were talking about it and she had done a complete 180. She said people were working there from CSU, from Akron, etc. She even hinted that she might have some regret about going into the debt required to go to CWRU.
The reality is that for a guy going to a truly T14 school, it's just not the same dynamic. They would turn their noses up at opportunities that we'd think are awesome. For instance, an 80,000 offer with a mid-sized firm? They'd crap their pants and vomit all over the offer letter. They'd be offended that a mid-sized firm would even THINK that they would work there for such paltry wages.
However, a top 10%er from a school like Wayne State? That offer looks damned fine. Especially after a few years when they're well into the six figures, that student loan debt doesn't look so insurmountable anymore.
I do think that if you want to go to a T4 and do average or worse, you will have to make your own opportunities. That's the biggest difference, I think. Average grads from U of M have a hell of a lot of doors open to them. Average grads from Akron and CSU? Maybe not so much. There are still jobs, but like your friend said, they may only pay $40-60K.
The wildcard in all this is that you can go into practice for yourself. When you bill $150 an hour or more, it doesn't take Stephen Hawking's math skills to realize you can make real money. So, maybe you only make $50K for a few years, but after a while, you open up your own labor, family or criminal defense firm and now you're billing 20 hours a week, paying $50K overhead, and making $100,000 for your troubles... at 20 hours a week.
I do think your friend's advice is sound in this regard: HIS future and YOUR future are not likely to be the same thing. If he graduates top 1/3, he probably has a shot at a biglaw job. If you graduate #1 in your class, you MIGHT have a shot at a biglaw job coming out of a T4. However, if you graduate top 10%, your chances of getting a good offer from a midsized firm are not that bad.
If you graduate in the bottom of the class? It's a tough row to hoe, no doubt, but it can be done.
Step back and ask yourself this question: what is it you want to do with your life? If you like teaching, for god's sake keep teaching. No offense, but teachers are some of the whineyest bastards on the planet. If you can spend a day with a teacher without hearing the word "underpaid" it's a miracle. However, with enough seniority, you're gonna be pulling down 60 or 70K, eventually. For working 9 months out of the year with civil-service style holidasy off, that's good pay, especially since most teachers don't have to pay their fair share into social security and get seriously good benefits. Teachers should stop whining and just ask themselves if they like to teach. If they like to teach, the pay is reasonable for what they do.
(By the way, your friend's comment about "if you pass the bar", typically the T4s do pretty darned well on bar passage rates. Like 100% and usually over 90%. Frankly, a lot of top tier schools have lower bar passage rates than some of the T4s.)
I think I knew that all a long though talking to him just confirmed it. I will continue to investigate and in the mean time will try to some interning in some firms. Thank you again for taking time to read my post I am certainly grateful for your honest candor.
Why not just try a part-time program and try one semester? You'll learn more in 1 week in law school than you'll learn in 3 years of just asking around. Likewise, you'll learn more in 1 week in actual practice than you'll learn in 3 years of law school. No offense and it's never too late, but seriously, you don't want to **** around too long before pulling the trigger on this.