here's my opinion about your situation and it's only from what i've seen, experienced and heard from others.....
1. I think it would best if you scrapped the rec from the howard alum. If anything i would use it for Howard but from what I'm told schools want rec from prof. and this could only help your gpa situation if it's an outstanding one at that. I had an alum from a school write me an additional letter along with the dean of students and it did didly squat, no WL just DING.....unless a close relative is on the board of trustees or donating millions a rec outside of a prof or employer if you've been out of school for 5+ years is the best route in my opinion
2. You said that you started out well in undergrad and then dipped off due to justifiable circumstances and then raised your grades at the end, this is great and you need to justify it with an addendum. please write an adendum, they're supposed to be short and sweet so you won't have time or room to become whiny or make it seem like you're coping out and making excuses
3. I think that your experience in BR would be perfect for a diversity/adversity statement which so many school give an option for students to submit. i chose to combine my ps & diversity statement into one big "lex through the years" essay b/c i felt it was necessary for schools that didn't require a diversity statement to know certain things about me.
4. Have you been out of undergrad for 4 years working for southern or were you working for them during school? if so this shows a lot for you grades and can be added, if not kudos for you b/c it was prolly a great experience and shows commitment, blah blah blah
5. If doing a graduate program b/t now and entering law school is something you would like to do and would enjoy, i'd say go for it and do the damn thing. Although they only favor graduate performance so much i think since you're in abetter state of mind and place it'll show that you can perform academically. if i was you i would do it, i feel like it will open more doors at the top for you
6. as far as schools to apply to, take a look at the lsac website under the abab law school guide, most schools (except t14) have a chart (need adobe) that shows how many admits they take with certain lsat & gpa. if a certain school admitted someone with your numbers then i think thats a school that you have a decent chance at. even if it's only one person, b/c hey you never know right??? also i don't know your financial situation but if you can apply to as many schools as possible, again it's a you never know what could happen situation and someone is going to need that 170 for numbers and the hellish usa news rankings
7. as for howard goes i think you have a great chance of getting in, and their civil rights program is dope for obvious reasons
8. apply as early as you can, ie. as soon as schools start accepting apps, with so many schools having rolling admissions it only helps especially with the gpa factor.
9. make sure your essays are thorough and do the optionals, get a team together of 3 or 4 individuals who are essay nazis in every way....but remember not to edit so much that it's no longer your work.
okay good luck!!!!!!
ps. go to the applicantion boards and ask away there's way more ppl there that have tons of advice than blsd....although we do provide the best