A Theory of Legal Strategy
82 Pages Posted: 8 May 2000
By the conventional view, case outcomes are largely the product of courts' application of law to facts. Even when courts do not generate outcomes in this manner, prevailing legal theory casts them as the arbiters of those outcomes. In a competing strategic view, lawyers and parties construct legal outcomes in what amounts to a contest of skill. Though the latter view better explains the process, no theory has yet been propounded as to how lawyers can replace judges as arbiters. This article propounds such a theory. It classifies legal strategies into three types: those that require willing acceptance by judges, those that constrain the actions of judges, and those that entirely deprive judges of control. Strategies that depend upon the persuasion of judges are explained through a conception of law in which cases and statutes are almost wholly indeterminate and strategists infuse meaning into these empty rules in the process of argumentation. That meaning derives from social norms, patterns of outcomes, local practices and understandings, informal rules of factual inference, systems imperatives, community expectations, and so-called public policies. Constraint strategies operate through case selection, record making, legal planning, or media pressure. Strategists deprive judges of control by forum shopping, by preventing cases from reaching decision, or by causing them to be decided on issues other than the merits. The theory presented explains how superior lawyering can determine outcomes, why local legal cultures exist, how resources confer advantage in litigation, and one of the means by which law evolves.
JEL Classification: K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation