Before I say anything realize that I or anyone else posting on this board or others is nothing more than an anonymous internet poster and therefore everything I or others say should be taken with a grain of salt. With that said I have gone through law school and can at the very least give you my opinion, which might give my post a scintilla of credibility, but this is just my view and one I could certainly be 100% wrong. I will give you a quick overview on your admissions chances and more importantly an analysis on what I think any potential law student should consider.
As for a T20-T30 school a 3.25 might not cut it although a 176 is impressive. Unfortunately, schools don't necessarily care about your master's etc or even work experience. U.S. News has kind of destroyed the common sense of law schools when it comes to admissions and often schools would prefer to have someone with a 4.0 in religious studies than a 3.2 in engineering, molecular biology, etc because U.S. News report doesn't the difficulty of the major they just report the Undergrad GPA and a 3.2 does not look as good as a 4.0 and U.S. News is a very cursory review that law schools have allowed
I personally believe these factors in order are what any potential law student should consider. (1) Location (2) Cost (3) Personal Feeling about the schools (4) Specialty programs and as a tiebreaker (5) U.S. News. I will also explain the reality of legal education and analyze each of those factors individually below. LOCATION:
This is far and away the most important thing unless you are going to Harvard, Yale, etc. Remember you are going to be spending 3 years of your life wherever the school is located and law school does not exist in vacuum. If your a highly conservative person going to Berkeley might be very difficult for you to deal with and if your really liberal I wouldn't recommend South Texas.
Also if for example you want to do IP law then the Bay Area is where most of that happens and going to a school that isn't as highly ranked in San Francisco or San Jose i.e Santa Clara, USF, Hastings, would open more doors to those type of companies than attending a higher ranked school like Iowa where no IP companies are located.
On top of that law school particularly 1L is very difficult and having friends, family, and so forth to support you will be far more important than attending a school that is ranked 10 spots higher that year especially considering that schools drop or jump 10-20 spots every year.
With your numbers you would certainly be entitled to some scholarship money at a number of schools. Getting an ABA degree debt free or with minimal debt is something to consider. No school guarantees you a job and the loan collectors will be coming regardless of what school you attend. If you only incur minimal debt you will have a lot more freedom in deciding what you want to do.
However, be very careful of scholarship conditions that schools attach. You will often get a scholarship letter that says you will keep your scholarship if you maintain a 3.0. Almost every law student got a 3.0 without breaking a sweat in undergrad and of course law school will be no different. However, in law school generally only 35% of the class can have a 3.0 and with your engineering background I imagine you can figure out what happens when 100% of people think they will be in the top 35%. This N.Y times article does a better job explaining it than I can. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/business/law-school-grants.html?pagewanted=allPERSONAL FEELING ABOUT THE SCHOOL
What many law students myself included as a OL don't realize is that each school has a culture. When I was applying to schools I was pretty certain U.S. News was the end all be all of what was best for me. However, when I started visiting schools some places rubbed me the wrong way and I loved other places. Then when I did mock trial competitions and later became a mock trial coach I really started seeing how different the cultures were at different schools.
It is pretty much like a company although Apple, Mozilla, Google, etc employ computer engineers the cultures are different and one person might have loved working at Apple and hated Google or vice versa. The same is true of law school. You might loved the Dean, Contracts professor, and Aesthetics of School X while everything about school Y gives you the creeps. You are going to spending three years at this school so go visit the ones you are interested in, talk to professors, observe how students treat each other and you can have an idea of whether it is a fit or not. What you like or hate is highly subjective and personal so check it out for yourself. I personally loved my law school, but there were plenty of people that hated their experience and you could find numerous people that either loved or hated their experience at every law school in America. So I urge you to really visit and make sure whatever school it is fits YOU. REALITY OF LEGAL EDUCATION
The reality is that every ABA school teaches you the same thing more or less. Whether you attend Harvard or Cooley your first year will likely consist of Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Property, Criminal Law/Procedure, Constitutional Law or some variation on that. In these courses you will read famous cases in Torts-Palsgraf, Civil Procedure International Shoe, Contracts Hamer v. Sidway , and all you will be doing first year is analyzing Supreme Court cases and the Supremes don't write special versions for certain schools it is literally the same.
Then in your final two years you will probably take Corporations/Business Associations, Evidence, Wills & Trusts, Remedies, and a few more universal courses that may not be required, but you will take. Again you will be reading a casebook and the law will be the same. You might have a more dynamic professor at school X, but what you learn is literally identical and there is no special equipment for law school there is simply a book and a library. I imagine in engineering the equipment matters, but in law school your simply dealing with books and then every ABA school has the same deal with WestLaw & Lexis, which is the only real equipment you use. SPECIALTY PROGRAMS
If you do have a particular area of interest some schools may have an amazing professor in the subject area or may simply offer the relevant courses. I imagine Nebraska law school doesn't have much of a Maritime law program being landlocked and NYU probably doesn't have many professors with experience in agriculture law.
Then as I stated before if your interested in IP type law going to school in the Bay Area would be the best option since that is where all of that stuff is happening and where adjunct professors in those areas would be able to teach. If you wanted entertainment law then attending school in L.A or N.Y. would best. I would recommend looking at each school's course schedule and see if they offer what your interested in.
If you have no specific interest that is fine as well plenty of law students and practicing lawyers don't know what type of "law" they want to do. So if that is not a factor then don't worry about it. U.S. NEWS
The phrasing of your post makes me think this is a number one priority of yours, but what so many law students fail to realize is that U.S. News is a for-profit, unregulated, magazine offering an opinion, and they rank more than law schools. U.S. News decided New Mexico was the best place to live http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/real-estate/articles/2009/06/08/best-places-to-live-2009
. I will admit it makes me somewhat more interested in New Mexico, but I am not going to pack up and move there, because U.S. News said it is the best.
Use the same logic when choosing law school the fact that U.S. News says school X is the 29th best doesn't really mean anything. My school has been up into the 60's and been in the 100's and last year was in an 11 way tie for 84th place. It makes absolutely no difference in my career now what rank my schools ends up in. However, the location, debt I incurred, professor relationships, and personal relationships I made impact my career. What U.S. thinks has little impact so that is why the things I listed above should be more of a factor than U.S. News in your decision.
Remember what law school you choose is a life altering decision and nobody can possibly know what is best for your better than yourself. Not U.S news, not some anonymous internet poster, and certainly not me. Each individual has a unique situation and don't leave your common sense at the door when choosing law school.
When I was a OL I still cannot believe some of the idiotic things I used in making my law school decision thankfully everything worked out, but I can tell you I let U.S. News and anonymous internet posters play more of a role in my decision than my common sense, but thankfully a few practicing lawyers that were friends stopped from making a terrible decision.
I would say with a 3.25 your probably not getting into a T20-30 school, but I have never worked in an admissions office so I could certainly be wrong. Also my entire post could be complete B.S. and for all you know anyone posting on this board or others could be homeless people that snuck into a public library to post about fictitious law school experiences.
Good luck whatever you decide and awesome job getting a 176!