There's a story the folks at the James Advantage Funds like to tell about the last bull market, when the contrarian lost close to $600 million in assets by largely ignoring the tech boom. Instead of battening down the hatches and letting a few people go, its founder, Dr. Frank James, paid all 19 employees out of his own pocket and rode out the storm.

Chalk it up to old-fashioned, Midwestern ideals, employees say. Whatever the case, that company culture made it difficult last year for company president and CEO Barry James to install an e-mail retention, retrieval and storage system - a sort of big brother to keep track of electronic correspondences at the firm's headquarters in rural Dayton, Ohio.

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