Litigation Strategy: Identifying the Decisive Issues

In litigation, the attorney's role is to battle for their clients' victory, but what does it take to win at the highest level?  Legendary trial attorney John Quinn shares his litigation strategy to identifying the decisive issues.

Quinn's strategy involves figuring out what the jury is most likely going to believe early on. Often, the investment made at the beginning of a case in time, effort, research, and money may have the greatest payoff. Watch this brief to learn what it takes to identify the key issues.


  John B. Quinn is a trial attorney and the founder of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP—a global litigation law firm. Since 1987, Quinn has also been General Counsel of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Academy Awards.

Additional Resources

A Key to Victory: In a separate explainer in the Litigation Strategy series, John Quinn shares his insight on the single factor that "more than any other, leads to victory" in litigation.

John B. Quinn Attorney Bio

Litigation Strategy: Identifying the Decisive Issues Brief Transcript

John Quinn: Our experience is that you are at a huge advantage if you have figured out what will ultimately matter in a case and the other side hasn’t. Now, how do you figure out early in the case what’s ultimately going to be decisive? Mostly it requires doing the hard thinking, getting around the evidence and the documents, interviewing people at the client, interviewing third parties, getting expert consultants, and getting their advice. Sometimes this will involve doing an early mock jury exercise or focus group. In any case. The goal should be to try to figure out what is the jury most likely to believe and build your case around that. Figuring out very early what a jury is most likely to believe is a very very powerful tool to have in discovery and your trial preparation, generally. We had an employment case. It was an employment termination case where we were trying to decide whether to make the plaintiff an unconditional offer of reinstatement. So in that case, before we even answered the complaint, we had a focus group exercise where we had a group come into the office and presented them with the facts and gave them hypotheticals including an unconditional offer of reinstatement and heard what they had to say. That then informed our strategy going forward.

A corollary of the principle that the side that figures out first what ultimately is going to matter and take the initiative is that the money spent at the beginning of the case is the most important investment that the client will probably make. Now that is not necessarily what every client wants to hear. Often, clients bring cases with the hope or expectation we’ll bring the lawsuit, that will have an effect and maybe we’ll be able to bring about a settlement, and the client tells the lawyer “file the lawsuit and I really don’t want to spend a lot of money until I have to.” What we’re suggesting is the optimal strategy usually is to get on top of the facts, figure out what is ultimately going to matter, and to make that investment, to learn that from the beginning of the case. Now the type of early, preemptive action I’ve talked about—taking deposition without documents, acting very quickly—is not going to be right for every case. But doing the hard thinking at the beginning of the case and trying to figure out what ultimately is going to matter, our experience is, always pays off.