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The Good Case: Decisions to Litigate at the World Trade Organization


  • This research has been generously supported by the National Science Foundation (#0402260), the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the James D. Kline Fund for International Studies, and the Abelina Suarez Educational Trust. I wish to thank the interviewees for their time and understanding. Four anonymous referees and Carroll Seron, editor of the Law & Society Review, provided valuable suggestions that much improved the manuscript. For their critical commentary, editorial assistance, and support, I wish to thank Richard Appelbaum, William Felstiner, John Sutton, and especially Moira O'Neil.

Please direct correspondence to Joseph Conti, Department of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9430; e-mail:


This article draws upon the law-in-action, repeat players, and motive to understand how legal actors construct the “good case” in dispute settlement systems. The construction of “good cases” is examined at the World Trade Organization (WTO), a relatively new and unexplored site for the study of dispute settlement. Findings show that the good case encompasses flexible sets of motives including economic, political, and symbolic characteristics of trade grievances to mobilize WTO law. The flexibility is due to uncertainties associated with litigation, which are manifestations of four features of the WTO: the newness of the system, the organizational and legal structure of the dispute system, the context of the WTO as an intergovernmental agreement, and the persistence of inequality between states. Six variations of the good case are identified.