Setting the Bar

On Guard

C. Scott Hemphill

Professor C. Scott Hemphill connects scholarship with government service as head of New York's Antitrust Bureau

By Joy Y. Wang

Winter 2012

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in early autumn, about half a block south of the now-famous Zuccotti Park, Professor C. Scott Hemphill strides into a 26th-floor conference room located in Manhattan’s Financial District. The antitrust and intellectual property expert seems as comfortable in this utilitarian government office as he does in the classrooms of Jerome Greene Hall, where he returned every Wednesday evening this past fall to teach a course on antitrust law.

Hemphill began serving as chief of the New York State attorney general’s antitrust bureau in early 2012, and he makes the transition from government lawyer to energetic instructor appear as easy as a quick subway ride uptown.

“I teach students that talking about antitrust is storytelling in a way,” he explains. “How you talk about and shape the facts has a powerful effect on the outcome of the case.” Hemphill’s students put that lesson to work by grappling with a host of hypothetical situations drawn from the kinds of conduct he investigates in New York’s antitrust bureau.

While his day-to-day work in the antitrust office adds depth to his teaching, it also fulfills Hemphill’s long-held desire to engage in public service. So when Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman offered him the job, the decision to take on the new role came naturally. The East Tennessee native now oversees the work of 14 government antitrust lawyers, as well as a chief economist.

“The most exciting part of [my work in the antitrust bureau] is the chance to uncover anti-competitive activity and to do something about it,” says Hemphill. “It’s great when an investigation is firing on all cylinders, and we’re figuring out what actually happened based on documents and interviews and coming to a conclusion about it all.”

Hemphill brings to the position a deep understanding of both law and economics. He clerked for Judge Richard A. Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and then for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia from 2003 to 2004, before earning a doctorate in economics from Stanford University. Since joining Columbia Law School, his work has focused on the interplay between innovation and competition in the marketplace, and he has written articles about the generic pharmaceutical industry, as well as how copyright infringement affects the fashion industry.

Now, in the attorney general’s office, Hemphill uses his expertise to solve real-world problems. He takes on cases that often begin with initial complaints of antitrust activity, which then trigger the investigation process, and, at times, end with high-drama courtroom litigation.

“Antitrust is intellectually quite fulfilling and frequently offers the opportunity to jump into an unfamiliar industry and find out what makes it tick,” says Hemphill. “From the standpoint of learning about new industries, this job is like drinking from a fire hose.”

His time in the attorney general’s office also dovetails with his scholarly work. Hemphill is currently collaborating with Columbia Law School Professor Tim Wu on an article analyzing parallel exclusion, the term used when several players in one industry—for instance, credit card companies or pipe makers—act collectively to prevent entrance by competing outside parties.

In discussing antitrust concepts, Hemphill draws from a deep well of scholarly and practical knowledge. He segues easily between explaining how a group of fashion designers in the 1930s set up a guild to prevent piracy of their designs to detailing how regulations affect generic drug companies. Then Hemphill quickly brings the conversation back to the recent economic downturn, noting the Occupy Wall Street protestors camped out in the park nearby.

“Now more than ever,” says Hemphill, “robust competition is important, because it is the path to economic growth.”