So, when I discuss law schools and rankings with "laypeople", usually in the context of explaining part of my decision to attend one school (American) over a few others (notably Pacific, Temple, and San Diego), I have started to employ an analogy with college football. Tell me if you think this is accurate. If you get offended by my descriptions of Tier 3 and Tier 4 schools, lighten up, I'm not a rankings whore, this is just for entertainment.
T14 = Perennial BCS Contenders
The T14 are the law schools that, just like USC, Texas, Miami, and Oklahoma, are always near the top. They land the best recruits, churn out the highest-ranking professionals, etc.
Law Schools: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, NYU, Georgetown
College Football: USC, Notre Dame, Texas, Miami, Oklahoma
Middle Tier 1 (15-30) = The 9-2 Teams (BCS Conference 2nd Place Finishers)
Middle tier 1 schools are schools that aren't quite at the level of the T14, but will occasionally sneak up and place a graduate into a firm over a T14 school. Comparable to those pesky 9-2 teams from BCS conferences that will sneak in the back door and win the Fiesta Bowl.
Law Schools: UCLA, George Washington, Boston, Wash U., Minnesota
College Football: Oregon, Wisconsin, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Kansas State
Lower Tier 1 (31-50) = 8-3 Teams and Top Mid-Majors
Lower tier 1 schools still have some national appeal, but rarely compete with the T14s, though they nip at the heels of the middle tier 1. Comparable to 3rd and 4th place teams in BCS conferences and mid-majors that win 10+ games and finish in the Top 25.
Law Schools: American, UC-Hastings, George Mason, Baylor, Ohio State
College Football: Louisville, Cal, Texas Tech, Boise State, Utah
Tier 2 (51-100) = 6-5 and Non-BCS Runners-Up
Tier 2 schools generally don't compete with the Tier 1, but still have their niches and win moot court titles, have killer IP programs, etc. Comparable to teams that play in the weird corporate sponsor bowls in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Boise, Idaho.
Law Schools: Cincinnati, Villanova, Santa Clara, Pacific, Temple
College Football: Iowa State, Virginia, Houston, Northern Illinois, Rutgers
Tier 3 = BCS sub-.500 and Non-BCS Middle-of-the-Pack
In the bottom half of law schools, will produce success stories, occasionally go to a bowl, but tend not to attract big recruits. Comparable to schools perennially at the bottom of BCS conferences and .500 teams in non-BCS leagues.
Law Schools: Southwestern, UNLV, New York Law School, Howard, Gonzaga
College Football: Baylor, Kentucky, Stanford, Wake Forest, Syracuse
Tier 4 = The Doormats
Tier 4 schools attract sub-3.0 candidates, have low bar passage rates, and generally aren't very reputable. Comparable to...well...
Law Schools: Thomas Jefferson, Texas Southern, Florida Coastal, St. Mary's, "National Law School"
College Football: New Mexico State, Buffalo, Army, San Jose State, Eastern Michigan