Amy Semet.

Amy Semet: New insights by the numbers

A specialist in intellectual property law as well as administrative law, Associate Professor Amy Semet brings to her scholarly work the added dimension of quantitative analysis – compiling and mining data sets to better understand how the law works in practice.

Semet developed her interest in intellectual property during a post-law school clerkship for a federal court of appeals court judge, working on patent appeals among other matters, followed by six years of IP litigation with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York City. She returned to school to earn two master’s degrees and a doctorate in political science at Columbia University. There her Ph.D. thesis examined the statutory methodologies used by the National Labor Relations Board in decisions spanning nearly a quarter-century, looking at how the Board interprets statutes over time.

“I’m particularly interested in analyzing data to see how legal institutions can best be reformed,” says Semet, whose teaching at the law school includes courses in property law, patent law and an IP survey course. (She also is affiliated with UB’s Department of Political Science.)

So, for example, she has studied decisions made under a pilot program, established by Congress, to examine whether more-experienced judges made quicker decisions in patent law cases, and whether their decisions were less likely to be reversed on appeal. At the program’s five-year mark – halfway through its expected duration – she found that the judges’ level of experience made little difference in whether the decision was reversed on appeal.  

It’s the kind of finding that can inform efforts to improve the administration of justice in broad ways. Semet continues that work as she builds and analyzes legal databases in such areas as immigration law, NLRB case law, environmental case law, and IP issues including patent, copyright and trademark. It’s information that agencies sometimes provide freely, but other times requires a Freedom of Information Act request. She also plans to make these data sets available to other researchers.

In addition, Semet has researched and written extensively about administrative law – the rule-making and adjudication that governs the work of federal and state governments’ administrative agencies. “UB has a very dynamic faculty in administrative law, and it’s an important skill set for potential lawyers to learn,” she says. “When people become lawyers, much of their legal work will not be in federal or state judicial courts. There is a lot of legal work in federal and state administrative agencies. I’m interested in the interplay between political science and law, and administrative law naturally fits into that niche.”

Under a grant from the Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy, she is analyzing what factors affect how patent law adjudicators make decisions, using a database of over 11,000 decisions from the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Semet graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College, where she studied government and history, before moving on to Harvard Law School, from which she graduated cum laude in 2000. She obtained her doctorate in political science from Columbia University in 2015. As a member of Harvard Law’s Board of Student Advisors while in law school, she taught legal writing to first-year students; she has gone on to teach at Dartmouth’s Government Department and both at Columbia’s Political Science Department and at its Quantitative Methods in Social Science program. She also did a postdoctoral fellowship for three years at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University and was a Visiting Fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project.

She has published widely, most recently on topics including immigration detention and adjudication, patent litigation, and judicial elections, in journals including the Duke Law Journal, Georgetown Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, Boston College Law Review and the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies.

“I really enjoyed my practice experience, but I knew long term that I really wanted to be a law professor,” Semet says. “Buffalo is a very interdisciplinary place, and it’s a place where you can forge connections between the law school and the other departments. It’s just a really collegial atmosphere.”