Angela Sabbe is a Managing Director and expert in the Ankura Competition & Class Action practice. For more than 20 years, Angela has devoted her expertise to advising companies and in-house counsel with winning strategies and analytics solutions to resolve their most complex data-intensive challenges. From performing extensive data analyses to accurately estimate damages, pinpoint potential liabilities, and even identify flaws in expert opinions to economic modeling, Angela’s hands-on approach to consulting has helped many companies across industries effectively navigate class action disputes, compliance audits, and investigations. In this “Behind the Expert” feature, we sat down with Angela to uncover the keys to developing a winning strategy with data.
"Many of our employees have histories in a wide array of industries and sectors before they came into consulting. This unique variety of experiences allows us to think about our client’s issues from different perspectives, thus providing better and quicker solutions." - Angela Sabbe, Managing Director
1. Describe in a few simple sentences what you and your practice do at Ankura.
My work is quite varied in its scope, but the primary areas of focus are healthcare and banking litigation and investigations, and consumer class actions. We help companies and their counsel collect, organize, and evaluate massive amounts of disparate data which can then be used to understand complex business challenges. This includes quantifying the potential financial impact of business decisions, allegations made in litigation or investigations, and helping to navigate and respond to external parties (i.e., opposing parties in a litigation, regulatory and governmental agencies) and internal stakeholders.
2. You are the leading General Counsel or EVP of a financial institution, and you have just received notice of a large class action or investigation. What is the first thing you do and how should you approach preparing a strategic defense?
I think the first thing to do is to understand the risk, the data available to evaluate and respond to the allegations, and the internal expertise and bandwidth to respond to the litigation. Frequently, companies wait to engage external support either in an expert or privileged capacity, but it is often advantageous to bring in-house analysts together with third-party consultants to work toward the best outcome. A fresh pair of eyes can be critical for determining whether there is a specific industry or data expertise that is needed, what data does—or does not—exist, and the form in which that data is stored. All of this can provide insight into what the best, most efficient, and cost-effective approach is when responding to litigation.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing corporations and leading counsel when it comes to preparing an effective strategy to settle disputes with substantial amounts of disparate data?
Frequently, the biggest challenge is uncertainty about what data an organization has, where it is housed, and a lack of understanding about the data itself. Different areas within an organization may have deep knowledge about the available data, but not how that data is used by other parts of the same organization. A lack of knowledge concerning how to deal with the relevant data, or the volume of relevant data, often contributes to the challenge.
Many times, our clients don’t have the bandwidth to address these challenges because they are focused on working with live data to support daily operations and departments can be siloed. Furthermore, with the turnover that many organizations face, staff can often be unfamiliar with previous systems and archives. They may also be unfamiliar with how to convert semi-structured or unstructured data into an analyzable format.
"A fresh pair of eyes can be critical for determining whether there is a specific industry or data expertise that is needed, what data does—or does not—exist, and the form in which that data is stored. All of this can provide insight into what the best, most efficient, and cost-effective approach is when responding to litigation." - Angela Sabbe
And, because many organizations run very lean, there is rarely the capacity to add responding to legal allegations, regulatory investigations, or other inquiries to their other daily responsibilities. Therefore, it is important to engage the right external support that understands the industry and can capture data across the organization, platforms, and relevant periods. A third-party consultant must have the right tools to extract essential data, convert it to an analyzable format, and then evaluate it to quantify financial impact—and do so in a timely manner.
While not always the case, our work is often related to litigations or investigations. Under these circumstances, it is paramount that companies make the right decisions, yet under the strain of strictly dictated timeframes, it is important to have the data ready and at hand. There is a lot of risk around investigations and requirements for timely responses. Helping tackle this is another large part of the challenge.
4. How do you think advancements in technology, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, will impact the disputes space?
Machine learning and AI have already accelerated the speed at which we can pinpoint relevant data. As technology continues to advance, it is now possible to programmatically sift through and evaluate a wider variety of data sources, PDF documents, audio files, emails, or other unstructured and semi-structured data much faster than was previously possible. Rather than evaluating the data on a sample basis, we can now evaluate it more broadly, across the entire class in a class action, for example. Such automation could even encompass first-level document review and preliminary data validations. This has dramatically contributed to how quickly we can identify anomalous patterns in data, which can be helpful when evaluating outliers or fraudulent billing patterns, for example.
5. What is a recent engagement that you worked on that was particularly challenging and how did your experience shape or solidify your approach toward helping clients achieve success in the courtroom or during investigations?
I believe the most challenging engagements are those in which the data we need to analyze must be collected from numerous sources within the organization. In these instances, it is critical to ask the right questions, and listen to what is said—and not said. Then, to be able to make connections between disparate data sources, and clearly articulate the process, the data, and the findings become critical to success in privileged, legal, and investigative settings.
I recall one engagement in which we helped a health plan evaluate potential over- and under payments they received for their government-insured members as part of a specific supplemental healthcare program. Eligibility for the program involved complicated guidelines and exceptions that had to be modeled on data that was, at times, incomplete or contradictory between sources. Furthermore, if we determined the member had not been eligible for that supplemental payment, they may have been eligible for supplemental payments from other programs, making it necessary to evaluate those as well.
"It is critical to ask the right questions, and listen to what is said—and not said. Then, to be able to make connections between disparate data sources, and clearly articulate the process, the data, and the findings become critical to success in privileged, legal, and investigative settings." - Angela Sabbe
Data supporting each of these analyses needed to be gathered from different sources, including claims adjudication, member eligibility, and finance. We were able to provide expertise about the criteria for each program, identify enhancements to the plan’s internal validation algorithms, and provide a longitudinal approach to analysis across different teams within their organization.
6. What makes Ankura unique as a firm that provides consulting services tailored to helping clients synthesize and analyze their most sensitive data?
While I believe ‘collaboration’ to be an over-used buzzword, Ankura truly lives up to it and takes pride in working across teams to bring together the right industry, technical, and legal/regulatory expertise to best serve our clients. The breadth of background is something prevalent at the firm, and I feel confident and comfortable reaching out to other teams for assistance. Many of our employees have histories in a wide array of industries and sectors before they came into consulting. This unique variety of experiences allows us to think about our client’s issues from different perspectives, thus providing better and quicker solutions.
I believe the best results are delivered when diverse perspectives are considered which includes diverse people, backgrounds, areas of expertise, and experiences. A diverse team means more effective and efficient analysis and better results for our clients.
© Copyright 2023. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of Ankura Consulting Group, LLC., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals. Ankura is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice.