Law school enrollment is down and the cost of earning a law degree is up. George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy writes that it is well past time for a free market in legal education.

The ABA’s power comes from laws in most states that either prevent people who have not graduated from an ABA-accredited law school from taking the bar exam, or severely delaying them.

Those needlessly high costs must be paid by students, who often incur heavy debts while taking lots of courses they will never put to the least bit of use. (The ABA also mandates that law school programs take three years to complete, which means that students have to take many courses they will never need in order to get enough credits.) People who can’t afford the high costs and heavy debt load are unlikely even consider law school and a career as an attorney. That has a far greater impact on minority students.

Furthermore, students who can get through law school are often so burdened with debt that they can’t afford low-fee clients.

Instead of worrying about diversity among law students, I think it makes more sense to worry about the how the inordinately high cost of getting through law school affects the diversity of people who can afford an attorney when they need one. After all, when someone needs legal help, he probably isn’t concerned with the race or gender of the attorney, but only with his competence and affordability.

The goal should be legal competency, not three years in law school.