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Litigation, regulatory issues occupy Atlas general counsel

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Working at a shipping company wasn't exactly what a lawyer in Evansville saw herself doing when she graduated from law school at the University of Missouri - Kansas City in 1978.

But more than 30 years after graduation, Marian Weilert Sauvey said she loves her job as general counsel to Atlas World Group Inc. with a world headquarters in Evansville, plus offices in New Jersey, Seattle, St. Louis, Denver, and Oakville, Ontario.

She oversees all legal concerns that involve the corporation and its subsidiaries. She is a senior vice president and secretary of the company and is responsible for the human resources, training, and customer service departments. She also manages Atlas World-Class Travel Inc.

She started with the company in 1993 and had two other jobs prior to joining Atlas. First she was an associate and then a partner with the firm then known as Smith Gill Fisher & Butts in Kansas City and later worked as corporate counsel for Schneider National Inc. in Green Bay, Wis.

Atlas Van Lines Inc., the flagship of Atlas World Group, is the second largest household goods carrier in the country, she said. The Canadian subsidiary is the largest household goods mover in Canada. Atlas also has a number of other subsidiaries, including companies that do international moving, logistics, containerized moving, and a relocation company, she said.

For the more than 600 employees at Atlas World Group, the legal department consists of two. And from 1993 until 2000, Sauvey was the only attorney.

"We do almost everything that walks in the door except family law and criminal law," Sauvey said.

While she may be joking a little, she deals with regulatory changes; issues such as retirement plans and benefits for employees; contracts; financing; trademark; and litigation for bodily injury or claims related to damaged cargo, "which doesn't happen too often," she said.

She handles most of the legal work in house but will hire outside counsel for litigation and international issues that may arise with the Canadian branch of Atlas Van Lines.

"In Canada they have different privacy regulations than here, which makes it interesting to get involved in those kinds of things," she said.

Because what she needs is such a specialized area of the law and lawsuits can happen around the country for her company, she'll go to attorneys who belong to national legal organizations such as the Trucking Industry Defense Association, she said.

She's also a member of the Transportation Lawyers Association, the Conference of Freight Counsel, the Canadian Transport Lawyers Association, and the American Moving and Storage Association Legal Advisory Council.

"There's a real difference between an accident that involves a car and a car and one that involves a truck and a car," she said.

One of the challenges she faces in her work is keeping up with everyone who works for the company.

"We do business through our agents so we have ... drivers who work for Atlas as independent contractors or they are leased to us by the agents they work for," she said. "The sales people who work with the customers are not our employees. So we have to figure out how to keep all these people we have a contractual obligation with moving in the same way, and that they're all doing things the right way."

To keep things moving, she said there is an element of education and training to keep everyone up to speed.

Some things can change fairly quickly, such as how many hours interstate drivers can drive. Litigation can also have an effect on those restrictions. There are also regulations that impact consumers when it comes to household goods.

Chris Wood at Adams Holcomb, a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C., has worked with Sauvey for a few years as outside counsel on litigation.

"While I'm supposed to be the learned outside counsel, I find that more of the time she's teaching me as opposed to me giving her advice. She makes sure I'm on my game," he said.

"She bubbles with ideas, legal arguments, ways to examine the facts. She's one of the most dedicated lawyers I've met. ... I think she internalizes these things, and feels that it's her job to do what's best for the company. ... She is an activist and very hands on in a productive fashion," he said.

As for what she likes about the job, "I enjoy the diversity of it," Sauvey said. "One minute I'm working on helping a customer, and I do get calls from customers. The next hour I'm working on a huge multi-million dollar financing deal. No two days are ever the same."

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