#7 – Stash GC Meredith Smith on Being A Generalist, Managing People, And Communicating

 

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TLDR

  • Being a General Counsel at a startup requires you to be a good generalist

  • If you’re the first lawyer at a startup, you’re going to be doing everything

  • Communication is key and take the time to meet with your team and the C-suite

  • Learn how to clearly illustrate issues and communicate in a succinct way

  • Don’t underestimate the power of ALSPs (Alternative Legal Service Providers)

Resources Mentioned

Intro

  • Meredith Smith is the General Counsel at Stash, the personal finance app, helping +5M Americans reach their financial goals.

I Put the General in General Counsel” – Direct Quote from Meredith Smith 

  • Meredith started her law career at Sullivan & Cromwell in the Financial Institutions Group.

  • She worked at S&C for 9 years where she was trained in a “generalist philosophy.”

  • Meredith was the first lawyer to be hired at Stash

  • As the only lawyer at Stash, she had her hands in everything. You name it, she did it

What A Normal Day Looks Like

  • In the morning, she catches herself up on the latest legal and regulatory news by reading:

  • Meredith’s role has evolved to include more management as she’s moved from a VP level to C-suite level

  • Meetings galore! Meredith has recurring meeting with:

    • C-suite and senior leadership

    • One-on-ones with everyone that reports to her

    • Skip-level 1:1s

    • Cross functional meetings

  • The rest of the day is TBD based on what’s going on in the world of Stash

The Dark Side of Being A Speedy Email Responder

  • Stash is a client of Lawtrades and our cofounder Ashish reveals to Meredith, “You’re one of the fastest [customers] to respond to emails”

  • Meredith watches her email and Slack “like a hawk”

  • But she wants to incorporate “makertime” AKA blocking off 2-3 hours of the day to sit down and work with no distraction … this would mean turning off all notifications

Making The Transition from A Law Firm to A Startup 

  • At S&C, Meredith was expected to be available at all hours of the day including weekends

  • The daily pace of a startup is super fast and requires you to make decisions quickly

  • Learn how best to accumulate facts and get a decent handling on the law

  • You have to be comfortable making decisions when you don’t have the full story

How to Navigate The Annual Board Meeting

  • Board meeting is only a couple of hours, so focus on explaining high ticket items in a succinct way

  • You’re not going to hit everything you want at a board meeting

  • Discuss the most important issues and the biggest risks facing the company

Be Real with The C-Suite

  • Make your communication real

    • Here is the issue. Here is how it could go wrong. Here is how it could affect us.

  • Don’t be abstract when presenting an issue; explain it using this logic – “If this then that”

  • Always include TLDR (To Long; Didn’t Read)

  • People don’t read long emails so hit high levels and go from there

Skills Every GC Should Have

  • Be curious about the business, industry, and macroeconomic environment.

  • Learn everything you can

  • You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but be well versed so you can speak with outside counsel or a Lawtrades lawyer

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Why Every GC Should be Buddies with The CFO and Finance Team 

  • Prior to coming to Stash, Meredith had little experience creating a budget headcount and hiring plans

  • Build a good relationship with the CFO and finance team, so if you make a mistake in the budget, you have leeway

The Most Asked About Question: Headcount

  • Look a year in advance when thinking about headcount

  • Salaries are a very big part of budget

  • Base your hiring off of the company-wide employee projections

  • Checkout TechGC

Factor Outside Counsel into The Budget

  • Think strategically

  • Ask yourself questions like:

    • Is the company releasing a new product that requires a specialized lawyer?

    • Are we fundraising?

 Your First Time…Hiring Of Course!

  • Use a legal assistant or paralegal before your next legal hire

  • Consider what takes up most of your day; decide if your energy could be better directed towards other, higher-level issues

  • Don’t hire a lawyer if you’re giving them tasks that isn’t helping them grow their career

Thoughts on ALSP And Outside Counsel

  • Big law firms will always have their place and are a great one-stop-shop

  • Use cases for big law firms include M&A, IPO, fundraising, debt fundraising, and large, complex deals

  • ALSP (Alternative Legal Service Providers) like Lawtrades satisfy a very different need, Meredith has used Lawtrades twice – once for her maternity leave and a second time for a colleague’s maternity leave

  • A resource like Lawtrades is great because they have access to lawyers of a high caliber and extensive in-house experience

The Question We Love to Hate: Is NYC Dead?

  • NYC is Stash’s headquarters

  • Stash is indefinitely remote but definitely plans to come back to NYC when it’s safe to do so

  • Meredith is confident NYC will come back

Last Thoughts 

  • Meredith’s biggest concern using Lawtrades was if the lawyer could get up to speed fast enough

  • The lawyer surpassed Meredith’s expectations

    • “She’s awesome.”

  • “Don’t think that someone can’t get up to speed quickly. It’s possible if you do it the right way on your end and the lawyers end.” – Meredith Smith

 Lawtrades Helps General Counsels Prepare for Maternity Leave 

🙈Reduce the stress of finding a temporary replacement for maternity leave by using Lawtrades. Use the platform to navigate our invite-only network of attorneys, paralegals, and legal ops to find the best fit for your needs. Backed by smart reporting and spend analytics, Lawtrades makes it super easy to onboard and integrate new talent.

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