A Sydney-based Law firm, specialising in injury and insurance claims had been running a successful practice for over twenty years, from the city’s central business district.
While most firms abide by the law, there are often cases where, in order to get the outcome a client might require, or deserve, the lawyers tasked to their cases might bluff of even lie their way into a settlement – no big surprises there.
However, this particular firm had lost two major settlement cases that they were almost guaranteed to win, after their opposition, in both cases, simply refused to believe that the company had any strength in their evidence… despite being shown, both in court and in private, several exhibits that would qualify.
When the opposition refused and demanded that the case be overturned, thereby resulting in a settlement being paid to them instead, the firm refused, as a bluff, in the hope that their opponents would fold, themselves. Instead, in both cases, the opposition took the firm to court, where they lost. Not only were their cases thrown out the proverbial window, but they were also accused of falsifying evidence to win higher settlements and, as such, were fined for malpractice.
In total, the law firm paid out over $500,000 in settlements that should not have gone to court, $270,000 in legal fees and $220,000 in fines, in total amounting to just under a million dollars in 6 months; not to mention the fact that they weren’t able to claim the multiple thousands for their clients either.
In a meeting between the board members of the firm and the lawyers involved in the last two cases, they agreed unanimously that there was no way for their opposition to have known about the evidence in question, or their position in the case without an inside leak. Their initial concerns were that someone within their offices was delivering information, in private, to their competition.
As such, over the next two months, a series of interviews were held with staff members of all levels within the company, from directors through to associates, clerks and receptionists; all as a means to determine whether any of them were involved in the leaks.
Unfortunately, short of being able to use a lie detector, the firm was unable to expose the “mole.”
Taking into consideration that the lawyers involved understood that there was technically no way that their cases would have been lost, had it not been for someone close to them divulging the confidential information of their meetings with clients to their opponents, yet finding nobody to blame, the company turned its attention to something a little more secretive.
Every year, the firm held a mandatory bug sweep, where the same team of professionals that they’d used for over eight years, would arrive in the offices in the mornings and over the course of 18-20 hours, have the entire building scanned for electronic bugging devices. In all those years, they had never discovered a single bug.
Given the circumstances, the company called them in and asked them to run a quick sweep again. Twenty hours and a few thousand dollars later, there was nothing to be found.
Short of ideas, the directors decided that it was time for a second opinion. The firm had previously employed Precise Investigation’s services to run a surveillance operation for a case they were building for a client in Brisbane, and so enquired as to what services we might be able to offer them in exposing their current issues.
After taking notes on what had happened to date, it seemed quite likely that they were overlooking the fact that their bug sweepers may have been the root of their troubles, and so we simply suggested that the firm allowed us to run our own sweep.
Four days later, we sent two operatives to their offices and set them to work, scouring everything from the pen pots on paper-pushers’ desks, to light fixtures in communal areas. However, it wasn’t until we turned our attention to the company’s main meeting space that things started to get interesting.
The room was the main area in the building where clients would disclose confidential information to the firm, and the lawyers divulged case details to each other and their clients. The bulk of the meeting room’s walls were made of glass; in the centre there was a large boardroom-style, wooden table with eight chairs; above it, a projector facing the left-hand wall and; at the other end, a monitor fixed to the plaster and a small computer unit; there was a standard multi-touch office telephone in the centre of the table and in each corner a simple pot plant.
Unfortunately, it seemed as though the bug sweep was a failure as our operatives weren’t able to find anything… until the older of the two noticed something: in every room in the building, where the glass partitions met the plaster or brickwork, the sealant was transparent. However, in the main meeting room, the sealant was a black rubber wedge, as opposed to a resin like every other room. Without even running a scanner of the rubber, he asked his colleague to peel back the seal on the one side of the room, while he did the same at his end… and there it was.
Attached within a hollowed-out groove midway through the seal, at roughly head-height, our operative discovered a tiny, wired microphone; the cables for which ran the length of the seal and into the carpeted floor, under the potted plant. A quick slice into the carpet revealed a battery pack and transmitter that had been hidden in a carved-out space in the wood underneath, a space only large enough to fit these items, making it clear that the crevice was dug out, on purpose, just for the bug.
Without touching anything further, the operative took several photos for our records and sent for one of the directors. There, he explained what he’d found and went on to describe what would have had to have happened for the device to have been installed in such a way; the most logical explanation of which was that given the previous sweepers had access to the building after hours, that they were somehow involved.
The question that remains, to which we currently don’t know the answer, is where the signal was being transmitted to; was the device installed there on behalf of someone else, or was the bug sweeping company recording the information from the meetings and selling it on to the competition for a profit?
For the time being, the other sweepers were dismissed on the premise that they had failed to discover a very serious breach of privacy, with the law firm still undecided on whether to investigate the issue further. For the time being, they have simply uninstalled the device and continued with business as usual.
When relying on the help of outside sources, we cannot stress enough how important it is to have someone else take a second look as well, particularly when the first lot weren’t able to find anything wrong. This applies to nearly all businesses and aspects of commercial life, but in cases where a leak of confidential information is suspected, we have seen many cases where some of the most trusted individuals are actually the culprits. Luckily in this particular firm, it would seem at least, that that wasn’t the case.
Whether you deal with confidential information on a regular basis, or you only occasionally come into contact with it, we can assure you that if it falls into the wrong hands, you’re likely going to end up with a serious legal case, if not something a little worse.
As such, if you’d like to have your offices, phones, cars or even homes checked for electronic bugging devices, which happen to be one the easiest ways for sensitive information to get from one place to another with little consequence, then:
Call Precise Investigation today on 1300 856 011 for a discrete, professional private investigation service.
Precise Investigation has operatives based across the whole of Australia, with easy access to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and even the more remote reaches of the country. If you’re ever in need, just know that we’re never far and one of our operatives, or a team thereof and our dedicated support team can be of service at the drop of a hat. Get in touch with us today and see what we can do for you.
Image credit: Thank you, Matt Reinbold from Flickr