Attorney at staffing agency has seen economy change firsthand

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In-House Counsel

Experts look to staffing agencies to see how employers are weathering the storm. After the economy took a hit in late 2008, companies first cut their temporary staffers, then their full-time workers, and were unlikely to hire new employees, temporary or otherwise.

But Lia Elliott, corporate counsel to Columbus-based Elwood Staffing, has seen her company's needs - and the economy - change firsthand since she started working for them when she was with Indianapolis-based Goodin Abernathy, and later as its first in-house counsel when they hired her full time a little more than three years ago.

Seeing how the economy affects her employer is only one part of her job that has been interesting since starting there, she said. She is respected by her employer, and her experience as a litigator sometimes comes into play.

Started by Dr. David L. Elwood of Columbus in 1980, the company began as a consulting firm that offered pre-employment testing and has since grown to offer temporary staffing services. In pre-screening candidates for jobs, the company offers skills tests, drug screenings, and background checks; will verify employment eligibility based on an employee's citizenship status; and will interview associates for temporary and temporary-to-hire positions for its client companies, Elliott said.

In her role as the only attorney, she said her job is split almost equally in half in terms of proactive and reactive work when it comes to the company's legal issues.

Her work involves legal issues ranging from labor and employment matters to litigation to contracts to transactional work for the company which employs approximately 200 internal staffers in 37 offices around the country, not to mention the temporary associates. While she didn't have an exact number, as temporary employees' statuses often change, she did say the company distributed approximately 30,000 W-2 tax forms in 2009.

She also tends to work with out-of-state counsel should a legal issue arise that involves labor and employment law in the other eight states where the company has a presence: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

She has to stay on top of the legal needs of a number of types of jobs as Elwood Staffing works with companies looking to fill light industrial jobs, such as warehouse staffing, assembly line workers, or employees to help with logistics; clerical; administrative; and professional jobs, an area Elliott said had grown in recent months.

"We're also seeing a shift in terms of contingent staff and workforce," she added. "Client companies and organizations, maybe as a result of the recession or maybe not, seem to be re-evaluating the role of their contingent needs. We're seeing clients who hadn't done this before but are starting to build into their internal structures a contingent workforce.

"Companies were hit pretty hard by the recession, and hiring a staffing company might be simpler way to adjust to the fluctuating economy," she said.

Elliott said staffing agencies absorb many of the costs to hire employees, such as unemployment insurance, worker's compensation, and health benefits.

Hiring an employee through a staffing agency also offers the temporary associate and the client company a chance to work with each other to make sure it's a good fit for both parties, she added.

Even compared to just a year ago, Elliott said the company has seen a dramatic shift in terms of how many jobs client companies have been looking to fill with Elwood temporary associates, which she cautiously said could be a result of the economy picking up again or it might still be too early to tell.

She has also helped the company as it has grown through brokering acquisitions of other staffing agencies, and negotiating contracts for office rentals.

Elliott has handled various employment issues involving the temporary associates and pays close attention to changes in the law and regulations as they apply to employees.

Most recently, she has been studying the newly passed health-care reform legislation. She said she's been working to determine how the legislation will affect the staffing industry and Elwood's client companies. She has also been keeping up with President Barack Obama's recent appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and how they may affect her clients.

Even though she's the only attorney, Elliott keeps most of the legal work in house, with the exception of litigation matters that either take place out of state, or are too large to handle with everything else she is managing.

Because those matters generally regard employment issues, she said it's not too difficult to find outside counsel because it's not a niche area of the law. When she does need to farm out some of the legal work, she will go to firms the Elwood family has used in the past or look to the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Because of her litigation experience, she said she can often see 10 steps ahead, helping her client minimize its exposure to litigation in the first place by offering effective training to prepare managers for what could happen, and by explaining to the client why they should or should not handle things the way they do.

"She can take legal concepts and then translate them back to a business owner and say, 'By the way, let's not let this happen or make this mistake again. Let's change up our business practices," said John A. Elwood, president of Elwood Staffing.

Like many in-house attorneys, Elliott started representing her current employer while at a firm and was asked to come on board based on the impression she made.

"One of the things we do is find talent for our clients so it stands to reason we should be pretty good, or we hope we're pretty good, at attracting talent to work for us internally," Elwood said.

He said Elliott was one of the people who over the years has provided a professional service to the company where, even early on, the company considered hiring her for a full-time position if and when the timing was right.

"She's smart, she can relate well to the family dynamics of a family-owned business, and she absolutely holds her own legally and also has a good knack for knowing what's practical, what you can do in the 'real world,'" he said, adding her good sense of humor is also an asset.


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  1. Mr Smith, while most reading these posts are too busy making money or cranking out what passes for justice in our legal-techocrat order,I have often attempted to resist your cynicism, well thought out cynicism I admit. Please know that I give up, I can resist your logic no more. From Locknarian Platonic Guardians, through the incorporation doctine, to substantive due process, to Roe, to the latest demands that all states redefine the foundational stone of all civilized social order, the history of America's fall from Grace is inscribed on the dockets of the judiciary. From the federal judges' apostasy of a kind that would have caused John Jay to recommend capital punishment, to the state judges' refusal to protect the sanctuary of the state constitutions, seeing in them merely a font from which to protect pornographers, those who scream "f*ck the police" and pemubras and emanations following the federal apostates, it has been the judiciary, by and large, that has brought the Experiment in Ordered Liberty to an end. The Founders had great and high hopes that they had designed the third branch to save the Republic from such a time as this ... rather the third branch has allowed itself to be used to drag the Republic into rat infested sewers from which no nation has ever returned. Save me from tomorrow:

  2. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  3. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  4. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  5. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied