Pretty much every law professor and lawyer I've talked to has advised me to take the money at CLS. It's still early, and I think hearing from Yale might be a game changer. Nevertheless, while H or Y might open slightly more doors for academia (some schools rarely hire anyone who hasn't graduated from H or Y) and supreme court clerkships, law school "prestige difference" between these schools are not nearly as important as how well you do in law school and who you meet and get mentored by them. A professor who was on a hiring committee at a law school also said that he only saw a few applicants with non H or Y JDs even "on the market," which suggests that the success that these schools have in academic placement are, to some degree, due to selection bias of students who choose to attend.
The only thing that concerns me is that law school grades are a little bit of a crapshoot, from what I hear. Being mediocre or even in the bottom 40% at a school that only gives out HP/P/LP verses letter grades can be a huge difference in your post-graduation prospects. In that respect, one could make the argument that CLS might have more risk than YHS with respect to employment opportunities even if there's no financial risk.
Let's keep this conversation going in this thread!
I think everything you said there sounds pretty reasonable. With respect to grades, I think if you are able to secure a Hamilton you will also be able to perform fairly well while in school. Grades are a crapshoot in terms of who gets the +/- but there are clear differences between B and A range exams, as there are with HP/P/LP exams, so I don't think it's that big a factor.
Also, we lose sight of the fact that school prestige serves a signaling function about your intelligence/work-ethic/drive. Going to Harvard will send a stronger signal than going to Columbia, but going to Columbia with a full-ride sends, I think, a stronger signal than just getting into Harvard.
Take the money and run. You're talking about many many hours that will be spent paying off the debt when you could have spent it on a house, a car, vacation, or taking a less well paying job because it makes you happy or because it has better long-term career prospects.