Last March, at the very beginning of what became a pandemic, we were in San Francisco where some of the first COVID-19 cases were showing up in the U.S. Our clients were in the midst of putting on their case in the Capacitors trial in front of a live jury in Federal Court in the Northern District of California. Dr. Jim McClave’s testimony was up next. On the eve of taking the stand, we got the notice the court was shutting down and pressing pause on the trial. That pause turned indefinite and eventually the jury was dismissed and trial was set for a later date.
That was the start of our at-home, virtual environment that we all have grown accustomed to now over a year later. Meetings, depositions, hearings, and even trials over Zoom have become commonplace — and I think we all have come to appreciate the efficiency they provide. We’ve grown to love the occasional interruption by a barking dog or child in need of a snack or help on their math homework. Anytime we get to sleep in our own beds the night before testifying, we are pretty happy campers!
Even with the advantages of the Zoom era, there is simply no substitute for an in-person jury trial. The atmosphere and engagement is hard to achieve with any other setting, no matter how great the technology (or how quiet our pets are!). The environment and energy is what we live for.
And this was very clear to us last week as we had our first in-person jury trial since the shutdown. Social distancing and masking were prevalent. Hand sanitizer was readily available. The number of people allowed in the courtroom was limited. And because courts are still largely working remotely, even the parking was easy!
The atmosphere was what we have come to know and love in our line of work. Dr. McClave was able to look the jurors in the eyes and explain complex, statistical analysis in bite size, easy-to-understand pieces with the aid of helpful and beautiful demonstratives created by our talented Marketing and Communications team.
“The judge clearly paid close attention to my testimony, and even at some point when we were talking about multiple regression analysis, said something to the effect that statistics was the reason she went to law school rather than medical school, to which the jury responded with nods and laughs — I told her I understood,” Dr. Jim McClave said.
The jurors were engaged — nodding along, taking notes and making eye contact. And during cross examination, they were clearly not swayed by the examiner.
“Jamie and I were both surprised that the Plaintiff did not put on any witnesses after my testimony (they had the opportunity to present rebuttal witnesses), so the last thing the jury heard from witnesses was the presentation we all worked so hard on,” Dr. Jim McClave added.
When the jury came back with a finding in favor of our client, it confirmed the effectiveness and irreplaceable value of in-person court appearances. How gratifying it was to see our client get a favorable result in a case that has been litigated since 2016 and has gone up and down the appeals circuit.
With three trials scheduled in the next several months, our bags (and masks) are packed. Our vaccines are administered. We are ready to go. See you at the courthouse.
GSE Bonds Antitrust Litigation was a class action in which 16 of the world’s largest banks and financial institutions allegedly conspired to fix the prices of debt securities issued by government sponsored entities (“GSEs”), such as the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. To fund operations critical to the financing of the US housing market, GSEs issue trillions of dollars in debt, underwritten by some of the largest financial institutions in the world.
Plaintiffs alleged that these underwriting financial institutions orchestrated a horizontal conspiracy to artificially inflate the price of GSE Bonds. Defendants allegedly used electronic communications (among other means) to set pricing floors when new bond issuances were brought to market in the “free-to-trade” phase. Dr. Caves developed an econometric bond pricing model to measure artificial inflation in GSE Bond prices attributable to the alleged conspiracy. Drawing on Dr. Caves’ peer-reviewed academic work, the econometric model applied a nonparametric representation of the price formation process to Defendants’ voluminous transactional data.
In late 2019—less than a year after the case was filed— 13 large banks and financial services companies initially agreed to pay $337 million to resolve claims by investors that they conspired to rig prices of bonds issued by mortgage companies. By January 2020, all 16 Defendants agreed to settle for a total of $386.5 million, resulting in a substantial recovery for investors nationwide.
In granting final approval of the settlement, Judge Rakoff of the Southern District of New York noted the “high quality” of plaintiffs’ counsel’s work throughout the “fast pace[d]” litigation, and noted that “expert work…was essential to the resolution of this complex case.” In recognition of this accomplishment, counsel for Plaintiffs received the American Antitrust Institute’s award for Outstanding Antitrust Litigation Achievement in Private Law Practice.
“Economics was an elective at my high school but it sounded boring, so I elected not to take it.”
Now a professional economist with decades of experience, published research, federal court testimony, and an econometric technique named after him in STATA, Infotech Consulting’s newest Economic Expert, Dr. Kevin Caves, didn’t start college with a plan to major in economics.
In the mid-1990s, Kevin was studying abroad in Mexico City, just when the Mexican economy was reeling from the devaluation of the peso. He witnessed the devastating consequences to the real economy–and to real people he knew personally. It was only natural to try to understand the processes giving rise to these economic disasters. This culminated in his senior thesis after returning to Haverford College: An economic model of the so-called Tequila Crisis. But how could he test it empirically?
“I was able to contact some Mexican financial regulators and, after a lot of coaxing, I got them to send me some data…This was the ‘90s, so I had to convince some Mexican bureaucrats to copy a bunch of data onto a floppy disk and mail it to some kid at a college they’d never heard of in Pennsylvania.”
The Haverford economics department agreed that the data supported Kevin’s theoretical model, allowing him to graduate with honors. After college, Kevin worked in the International Research division of the New York Federal Reserve Bank – yes, the one from Die Hard With a Vengeance, in which international criminals hatch a (truly preposterous) plot to empty the Fed’s gold vault and truck out the loot through an underground aqueduct.
“It’s the one place where you can work on Wall Street without being an investment banker or corporate attorney, which lets you actually experience New York City instead of working 90 hour weeks,” he said. “If you take the tour of the Fed’s gold vault, it’s not a particularly glamorous place; it’s a basement with a bunch of semi-rusty cell blocks and each one has a country’s label at the top of it. When there’s a transaction between two countries, they’ll get out a forklift and move the gold from one to the other. I think the Die Hard franchise wisely decided it was not sleek enough for Hollywood, so they shot most of the heist in some immaculately shiny bank set.”
As a graduate student at UCLA, Kevin’s research interests branched out beyond international economics. His thesis focused on modeling how consumer demand for cigarettes is influenced by advertising, taking into account the dynamics inherent in an addictive product; he also did research on firm-level productivity estimation. In his professional career, he’s worked on everything from pharmaceuticals to high-tech platforms to international finance to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (to name a few). And he’s continued to publish on a regular basis, finding that consulting often leads to some of the most interesting research questions.
“That’s the great thing about econometrics,” he said. “You have the tools to study almost anything–to make sense of it in surprising ways–as long as you can get your hands on some data.”
One month into his new role at Infotech Consulting, he’s already finding opportunities to do just that, and more. And the future view is expansive.
“I’m excited about applying my skills to new projects here, meeting new clients, doing new research, and just seeing what’s coming next in this industry–because there’s always something around the corner. Infotech is in a great position to capitalize on the next opportunity, whatever it is.”
As the Director of Data Management and longtime analyst, Paul Manning is always looking at data, something that makes a decent amount of people go cross-eyed even hearing the term. But to him, it’s not just points on a graph.
It’s the details of all the different ways to describe carpet.
It’s the recipe for making paint.
It’s the list of random things that get shipped via airplane cargo.
Where some see spreadsheets and scatter plots, Paul has an innate curiosity that has kept him exploring case after case at Infotech Consulting for 30 years.
“People might think that just sitting around crunching numbers all day, looking at the data is boring, but we get to work on so many different projects.”
Every case brings with it a new subject to dive deep into, analyzing the facts and figures that help the team discover insights from the data. It’s not for everyone. To meet the needs of clients, Paul and the Consulting team often have to develop a thorough knowledge on areas outside their typical scope – even on things like titanium dioxide.
“Titanium dioxide is a chemical used to make white paint. It can’t get any more boring than that, right?” Paul said. “But it’s not boring to me. I mean, if I ever need to buy paint for my house now, I have all this information and can go talk intelligently with the salesman. Learning about an industry aids in deciphering the data and can be personally beneficial if I need to buy paint or carpet.”
He remembers fondly a case about airplane cargo, where the data points were more unusual than most.
“Air cargo was one of my favorites, because it was totally different. It’s not a product per se,” he explained. “Instead of people selling something like a chemical or consumer product, this project involved selling cargo space on an airplane. And there weren’t many characteristics of it that we could use in our modeling. It’s just stuff, put into an airplane and measured by weight.”
The case was about a surcharge being added for fuel, so to understand their transaction data Paul and his team had to research what was actually being shipped. It led to some peculiar discoveries.
“We do get excited about things in the data. In air cargo, we were looking at the data and someone would say, ‘Wow they shipped a horse,’” Paul said. “It’s all these weird things that we obviously know – of course horses are being shipped, because they get from one place to another – but actually seeing that they put horses on airplanes and ship them and how much they pay for it is exciting.”
There’s more to 30 years of experience than a lifelong curiosity, however. Few people would remain in a workplace that long simply because they enjoy one part of their job in particular, and Paul is no different, he said.
“It’s the whole gamut of things. I obviously love the people, and the work is always challenging and different. Sure, from today to tomorrow it might be the same stuff, but over time there were many new problems to solve.”
It’s more than cases and data, too, as far as new challenges go. As Infotech Consulting grows, interns are a common sight in their team meetings, and Paul has become a part of mentoring the future analysts. Sometimes they even graduate and come back to join his team.
“Paul has been crucial in my development at Infotech,” the most recent member of the Data Analysis team, Michael Smith said. “As I’ve been learning, I’ve probably asked him many foolish questions, but he never makes me feel as though they were unreasonable. I’d feel comfortable asking him any question at any time, and I really appreciate that about him.”
It’s no surprise that Paul understands potentially overwhelming transitions. His education includes a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in mechanical and aerospace engineering, which helped land him work for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company as a Senior Engineer. That’s right, Paul was a rocket scientist before he started with Infotech Consulting. Jumping from one industry to another, collaboration is one of his strengths that carried him through. He started before the Consulting team was even half the size it is now, each person sharing all the responsibility.
“It was totally different when I started out, just Jim, Cindy, Joe, Barbara and a few other people that have since left, but I think that’s it. It was a very small group so we all did everything,” he said. “There was a lot to do, it seemed like we were always busy. But it was something to look forward to, coming to work; everyone was like me, geeky data people who like analyzing stuff.”
With 20 employees now, 4 teams, three expert witnesses, and interns in flux over the course of a year, a lot has changed. Not in a bad way, Paul said, as the culture is the same. Now there’s just more of us.
“After spending 30 years here I don’t have anything to compare Infotech to, but just knowing people outside of work tells me that this team is totally different from any other group of people I’ve ever met,” Paul said. “I don’t know anyone like them. We’re a unique bunch that have melded together to do this thing, all because Dr. Jim McClave had this great idea and he found people that liked helping him with it.”
In response, Dr. McClave said, “Well, I might have had at least a decent idea, but without folks like Paul joining the team, the idea would have died on the vine. Paul came to Infotech with his “rocket science” intelligence and his willingness to take on the toughest tasks. In the 30 years Paul has been with us, I have never heard him say anything like “it can’t be done.” Quite the contrary — Paul loves the challenge of complex and difficult projects, and he has consistently overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In short, Consulting’s success over the past 30 years is due in no small part to Paul’s role as a player and leader on our team.”
It’s quite an anniversary to celebrate with one company. Decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge about enough different subjects to make Paul anyone’s favorite trivia partner. And, as a lifelong student of whatever he gets to study next, he’s not going anywhere just yet.
“I think what I’ve learned over the last 30 years about everything in this business – from stats to data to law, and more – that’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of; learning everything there is to know about what we do.”
I am a self-admitted goal-setting addict. My addiction began in my early thirties when I listened to the motivational tapes – yep, back then we listened to tapes on our car tape players – of Earl Nightingale. “You become what you think about” was Earl’s primary thesis and it resonated with me. So, I began to focus on what I thought about by following his advice to write down goals and review them regularly.
This time of year is especially important for my goal-setting addiction, since I formed the habit of formally revisiting and revising my goals on New Year’s Day or shortly thereafter in the tradition of establishing New Year’s resolutions. Three principles guide my goal-setting:
- no more than five per year
- very specific but simply stated
- should be a combination of business and personal goals
Some advise sharing goals with others, but for me they are usually my private guideposts. I revisit my goals on a regular basis throughout the year to assess progress, but in no case do I change them until the following year.
I have learned the hard way that some specific wording can backfire. For example, for many years I set the goal of “breaking par” in golf, my lifelong favorite avocation. My wording was something like: “My goal is to improve my chipping and putting this year, and to break par at least once.” Looking back, this wording implied that breaking par once would accomplish the goal. In 1992 I shot a 69, breaking par by three shots for the first and, so far, the only time. I have since then focused much more on carefully wording my goals.
I have set numerous business goals for Infotech over the years, both cultural and monetary, and nearly all of them have been met or exceeded. Random chance? Perhaps, but as a statistician I think chance explanations are often a cop-out.
The pandemic certainly impacted some of my 2020 goals — some had to be put on hold, others re-doubled. For example, I had some travel goals for my wife and I this year that had to be pandemic-postponed. In contrast, I expanded both the time and frequency of my exercise goals. I also had a goal of working with Infotech Consulting President, and my daughter, Dr. Jamie McClave Baldwin to advance our Consulting business as she has taken the reins and will be advancing our business to the next level. I think the pandemic has actually resulted in our working with increased focus on building and strengthening our team, and as a result we are ahead of schedule on this goal.
I look forward to establishing my 2021 goals in the light of our new reality. My first goal for 2021 is: I will get my COVID-19 vaccination at the earliest time at which it becomes available to me. I’m still working on the other four. I think goal-setting is especially important this year. In some sense the main goal for 2020 was just to get through the year safely, and to help our family, friends, and co-workers do the same.
I believe 2021 is a time to look forward with hope and determination. My goals will reflect a determination to apply lessons learned from 2020 to make 2021 a better year in all respects. If you have never tried goal-setting, with 2020 finally behind us I suggest that 2021 offers an ideal time to start!