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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. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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