Also, something no one mentioned here is that there is a very high chance that most schools will be taking the higher score for the next app. cycle. Call the schools you are interested in and see what they are doing.
I agree with this... word on the board seems to be that more schools are now taking the highest score instead of averaging. According to the LSAC FAQs section, they said they will average the scores on the reports.... but yes, it's best to check with the schools that you are interested in.
Applying early may or may not help in many cases. Schools like to say they have a rolling admissions policy but many of them appear to have "modified" rolling admissions policies. This means, they may sort applicants by index number. The people with the highest numbers get accepted first, then they go down the line. Some applicants are auto-rejected, Some "borderline" applicants will be waitlisted or deferred.
A majority of schools seem to sort applicants by index number, and break the piles into auto-admits, auto-rejects, and then the applicants that fall somewhere in the middle. My guess is that currently, you'd fall in the middle and it would seem advantageous to have your app in as soon as possible, so the adcomm can give it stronger consideration, rather than sending it in January and learning that it was tossed in the waitlist pile. (Even if you got waitlisted in Dec., your chances of getting off the waitlist are more promising since other admitted students may pass up Hastings in the months to come. This would give you a better a chance of getting off the WL in early 07, instead of perhaps barely getting on the WL sometime in late spring and crossing your fingers that something would open up by the summer.)
Additionally, if you get your app in early, and follow up with a note to Hastings stating, "Hi, I just wanted to update my application with the results of my LSAT. I got a score of 168!!", that's definitely the kind of follow-up news that looks great on an application.
The *absolute* worse case scenario is that you put off law school for a couple of years, take the patent bar, get some patent experience, then apply to law school again when you can take the LSAT a fourth time. LSAC will only let you take the test 3 times in a two year period. Since you graduated in '05, it might not be a bad idea to do this anyway.
Another solid piece of advice! I know it seems weird to put off law school and - *gasp* - work, but I'm really glad I waited a few years until I went back. No, you will not fall behind schedule or be the "old" person at school. So far, I've found that employers have looked quite favorably at my work experience and it gives them something else to talk about in an interview aside from school. Additionally, you have the rest of your life to be a lawyer - why not take a year or two to explore another path, learn what it's like to work, and see what the world has to offer? In the end, the choice is yours, but it's just some food for thought....
Again, good luck!!