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Expert spotlight: How a diverse background brings insightful analysis to economic consulting

Angela Rockwell is the Chair of the Life Sciences Practice. She has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology with a concentration in statistics. Her studies and research on how people think and process information, combined with her practical applications in data analysis, statistics, and sampling, enable her to provide a rich and deep understanding of many different subject areas. Dr. Rockwell discusses her noteworthy background and experience and decision to pursue consulting here.

Q. Can you describe your PhD program/studies? What drew you to this?

A. My PhD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is in Cognitive Psychology with a concentration in statistics. My research focused on mathematical models of how memory works in our brains. I designed experiments and used behavioral, neuroimaging, and eye-tracking data to test these models. I was drawn to the study of memory because I retained random facts really well as a child with minimal effort and wanted to understand why.

Some of my clients are surprised by my background in cognitive psychology, but it is actually closely related to behavioral economics. The disciplines take slightly different approaches to try to understand decision making and behavior using rigorous methods.

Q. How did the concentration in statistics fit in with your main focus?

A. I ended up being most passionate about the methodology underlying my research, so I added a statistics concentration to build out my analytical skill set and learn advanced modeling techniques. I also served as a teaching assistant for the graduate-level statistics program in psychology for several years.

While finishing my degree, I worked part-time as a research methodology and statistics consultant. That was my first foray into consulting, working with professors and outside researchers on diverse topics, and I quickly learned that consulting was the right path for me. My teaching assistant and consulting positions gave me experience presenting complicated, technical concepts in an engaging and accessible way. That experience has been extremely useful in my work at Bates White—I can capitalize on that skill to clearly communicate complex concepts and analyses to different audiences.

Q. What was your first position after graduate school?

A. My first position was as a researcher for an education non-profit, where I applied my statistical and consulting skills on a contract with the US Department of Education. I worked directly with educators and administrators to understand their questions surrounding academic outcomes for students. I designed studies to gather data to help guide their decision making, with a focus on sample design, survey development, and randomized controlled trials, and I presented the results to educators in national webinars and conferences. These activities required that I draw upon my experience presenting technical concepts in an accessible way that was tailored to a specific audience and their unique backgrounds and priorities. I understand how to deliver results easily understood by clients, judges, and juries.

Q. How did you transition from that research position to economic consulting?

A. In 2015 I was an invited speaker on an alumni panel at UMass Amherst, presenting to graduate students about non-academic research careers. One of my co-panelists was David DeRamus, a founding partner of Bates White. Though I had never heard of economic consulting, I was intrigued by the work he was doing, and he invited me to visit the Bates White office to learn more. I took him up on the offer, and the rest is history.

Q. How have you applied the skill sets you developed in graduate school and as an education researcher to your economic work with Bates White?

A. Though the industry and high-stakes nature of economic consulting was new, my statistical training translated fairly seamlessly to the work at Bates White. I hit the ground running, working on causation and damages models and other statistical analyses while I gradually amassed experience in the nuanced pharmaceutical, healthcare, and insurance industries.

For example, sampling was a critical component of my experimental work in graduate school and my education research, and I regularly apply my sampling expertise to my work at Bates White. One of my first experiences at the firm was on a fraud case that involved assessing whether an advertisement accurately presented statistics derived from surveys of a sample of physicians, whether those statistics could be projected to a population of US physicians, and to what extent the airing of the advertisement affected sales.

Q. You note that statistical sampling is a skill that you’ve applied in more than one arena. Can you explain more?

A. I have submitted expert opinions on statistical sampling protocols and damages extrapolation on behalf of several clients: a large healthcare provider, a national health insurer, and an international insurance company. My sampling work generally involves diverse allegations focused on claims billing or cession of policies to reinsurers, and it covers several different types of insurance including health, life, construction, property, and energy.

For example, I recently submitted an affidavit rebutting a proposed statistical sampling plan in a matter involving usual, customary, and reasonable (UCR) rates for out-of-network emergency services. I demonstrated that the proposed sampling plan was likely to both reduce the statistical certainty of any damages and increase the parties’ costs relative to an algorithmic population-level analysis. I also submitted two expert declarations opining on the appropriate method to extrapolate damages and calculate interest based on a sample of construction defect claims in a reinsurance arbitration.

Recently I have also been applying my sampling expertise in the context of survey design.

Q. So you have some background in survey work? Can you expand on that?

A. Yes, I designed surveys and published survey results and methodology guides as an education researcher. In that work I stressed the importance of careful design and pre-testing of surveys to avoid common pitfalls, many of which I had studied as a grad student, including different types of sampling bias and response bias. I have also applied this knowledge to my case work at Bates White, including most recently as part of a monopolization case in which we are designing a consumer survey to quantify the degree of substitution in response to a hypothetical price change to assess market definition.

Q. What is something you would like potential clients to know about you that they wouldn’t read about anywhere?

A. I grew up on a family-run dairy farm in Pennsylvania, which instilled a strong work ethic from a young age. My husband, our two-year-old son, and I make the trip home to the farm as often as we can.

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