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Cloak and digital work helps online sleuthing venture grow

By Thomas Olson
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
 

Bit-x-bit LLC is one of those companies conceived over the proverbial kitchen table -- specifically, a dining room table in Mt. Lebanon on Nov. 23, 2006.

Federal courts were weeks away from formalizing rules for demanding and producing electronic data in cases. Downtown attorney Joe Decker smelled an opportunity involving his wife, attorney Susan Ardisson, and her brother, computer expert Scott Ardisson, who was living on a sail boat in Portland, Maine.

"With Scott's computer talent and Susan's understanding of litigation and the needs of lawyers, I thought they would make a good team because of the heightened emphasis on this type of evidence recovery," Decker said.

Officially formed in February 2007, bit-x-bit has grown out of its initial office space Downtown. It relocated from 1,500 square feet on the 15th floor in the Frick Building in November to twice the space on the 12th floor. In five years, the firm's business has grown from a handful of clients around Pittsburgh to more than 100 in 80 cities.

Bit-x-bit helps law firms and sometimes corporations retrieve, preserve and analyze electronic data as evidence in connection with lawsuits -- a field called "e-discovery." The firm can recover from computer hard drives data that has been deleted -- a practice called "computer forensics."

"They talked me off my boat," said Scott Ardisson, a certified computer examiner who left his commercial security firm job in Maine to join his sister in Pittsburgh. Now he is bit-x-bit's president, and she is CEO.

Today, bit-x-bit employs eight people, soon to be 10, and is considering opening its first satellite office in California, Susan Ardisson said. The firm plans to hire a software developer to help Scott Ardisson and a linguist to perfect word-search capabilities.

"We follow the digital footprint," said Susan Ardisson, a former commercial litigator.

For instance, a multinational corporation hired bit-x-bit in 2011 to do a forensic investigation of a former employee's laptop in a noncompete clause lawsuit against him. Through sophisticated computer diagnostics, bit-x-bit determined that two days before departing for a competitor, the employee accessed 30 company documents and stole proprietary information and trade secrets. Result: The unnamed multinational company received a favorable settlement in the case.

In another case last year, bit-x-bit helped a client in a marriage settlement case unearth assets hidden by her former husband. Bit-x-bit's computer forensics found that the man had secretly sold oil and gas rights on 162 acres for more than $300,000, which he did not disclose as part of marriage settlement talks. Result: the man had to disgorge his former wife's share of the bounty.

"Five years ago, only some large (law) firms had this kind of capability," said David Blaner, executive director of the Allegheny County Bar Association. The bar, in fact, formally began referring firms to bit-x-bit four years ago, he said, because of its expertise and efficiency.

Even Reed Smith, one of Pittsburgh's largest law firms, hires bit-x-bit on occasion, said David Cohen, partner in charge of the firm's own e-discovery unit.

"When we can get forensic work done outside more efficiently than we can do it in-house, we'll do that to save the client money," said Cohen, whose firm was one of bit-x-bit's first clients in 2007.

Today, clients include K&L Gates, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Babst Calland, Thorp Reed & Armstrong and other Pittsburgh law firms.

"You've got lawyers who are doing a lot of e-discovery work and consulting companies (like bit-x-bit) that help with the technical aspects, and both of those areas are growing," said Rhonda Wasserman, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Wasserman said changes to the federal rules of civil procedure in 2006, which spawned Decker's idea for bit-x-bit, made it clear to the legal world that electronic data do represent documents that parties to a lawsuit can demand and must produce. Thus, "e-discovery."

At least two other firms based in Western Pennsylvania -- Precise Inc. and Clicks Document Management, both based Downtown -- specialize in e-discovery and related services.

There are 135 certified e-discovery specialists in seven countries, according to the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists. It estimates there will more than 400 by early 2013, based on registrations for certification tests.

"E-discovery is a large and growing field. It's a multibillion dollar industry," said Robert Hilson, editorial director of the Miami-based association.

Law firms and their vendors are increasingly expected by court proceedings and judges to produce electronic documents related to cases, he said. So they acquire that expertise and/or seek outside consultants such as bit-x-bit.

"If you delete them or don't preserve them properly, it can kill your case and the courts can sanction you," Hilson said. "In the last 10 years, courts have handed down penalties for hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Additional Information:

About bit-x-bit LLC

Business: Electronic discovery and forensic computer investigations

Headquarters: Downtown

Founded: February 2007

Employees: Eight

Revenue: Would not disclose

Officers: Susan Ardisson, CEO; Scott Ardisson, president; Joe Decker, vice president and general counsel

 

 
 


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