A big thanks to Dave for opening up a great can of worms. The comments to my post on Finding a Public Interest Law School have been, overall, fantastic.
I do want to add a few more cents of my own. Well, mostly dissents. (Bad bad pun, sorry.)
First, bigger schools do not mean more LRAP money. I know plenty of people in my office who went to big schools and, in some cases, (1) their school has no LRAP program at all, (2) they quickly became disqualified by earning too much (what?? how is that possible on a public defender salary??), or (3) they get such a minimal amount, it's obvious the school has "an LRAP program" in title only but isn't directing any funds toward it. Just because a school has a bigger endowment, doesn't mean their pushing any of it toward LRAP. So, if you want to know, ask. Say, "Hey, it said on your website you have an LRAP program? About how many alumni get LRAP money? How much do they get, on average? How long have they been out of school? Can I see a sample of the application?" They're there to answer your questions, so ask.
Second, I disagree with the "go to the best school you can get into" theory. At least in the public interest context, I think you have to go to the best school that suits your needs. And I think a big part of that is saying, "I know I'm not going to sell out and make as much money as I can, so I don't want to get into more debt than I need to."
Put it this way, let's imagine that at any given public defender's office new class of hires next fall, there will be at least one ivy league law school grad, and at least one state school grad. And, I'd say that's at least close to accurate for most PDs across the country. So, why is the ivy league grad in a better position? Are they more prepared? That depends more on what classes they took, where they interned, and what their real world experience is, just like the state school grad. Are they smarter? Not necessarily.
The only thing you're guaranteed to be is more in debt. (Unless, of course, you can get a free ride. In which case, take it.)
I agree that there's a difference between public interest in the public defender context and public interest in the ACLU context. But still, I think that a law school that truly puts more emphasis on public interest is going to be more likely to hire professors with this type of experience (as opposed to Supreme Court clerks), and therefore the faculty might be more likely to have more contacts in the public interest organizations. This, of course, varies from school to school, but it's a reason to consider a school with an actual public interest emphasis.
Regardless of the field, though, I think you'll find that the competition can be stiff for public interest jobs. If you read any of the law student blogs around here, you'll see that the ones looking for public interest jobs have just as tough of a time as the law firm types, if not tougher. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the public defenders' offices and public interest organizations look at more than just your law school and your GPA. Your commitment and your experience are big factors (as are the connections you make during these experiences.) It came out in many of the comments, but I'll repeat it again - internships, pro bono work, are very valuable, and definitely worth your (unpaid) time.
As for Dave, I know that you didn't get a quick list of schools, but I hope that this gave you (and anyone else in a similar situation) some things to think about. Good luck!