John Patrick Leary has a great series of posts called “Keywords for an Age of Austerity.” While he hasn’t yet taken on the term “efficiency,” it’s something we hear a lot from “Legal Rebels” nowadays. I found the following passage from an interview with philosopher Johanna Oksala very insightful on one intersection between law and efficiency:
In [my book Foucault, Politics, and Violence] I [discuss] new interrogation techniques – including waterboarding – that were introduced at Guantanamo Bay detainee camp in 2002. Philip Sand shows in his book Torture Team that what made these new, considerably more aggressive interrogation techniques possible was not the suspension of international law, but an interpretation of it that made it consistent with pregiven policy aims: the effective gathering of intelligence for national security. The law was respected by the state, but it was used strategically: the policy should have been drawn up around the law, but instead the legal advice was fitted around the policy. Legality was subsumed under efficiency and professionalism.
What’s said here of government as a client applies as well in many recent situations where firms’ corner-cutting policies were taken to lawyers, who appeared far more interested in “efficient” outcomes for their employers or clients than in bounding their actions by law. They also appeared willing to fit their ideal of “professionalism” to that overriding pursuit of efficiency. So we should be a bit cautious when we hear, bandied about, terms like “efficiency,” “innovation,” “putting the client first,” et al. in discussions of the future of the profession. Scratch the surface, and you’ll often find a definition of each that is partial, self-serving, or even Orwellian.