🔊 #7 - Stash GC Meredith Smith on Being A Generalist, Managing People, And Communicating
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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)
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
S&C career counseling center connected Meredith to 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
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
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
Factor Outside Counsel into The Budget
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
Meredith’s biggest concern using Lawtrades was if the lawyer could get up to speed fast enough
The lawyer surpassed Meredith’s expectations
“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. Navigate an invite-only network of attorneys, paralegals, and legal ops to find the best fit for your needs. Backed by smart workflows, the Lawtrades platform makes it super easy to onboard and integrate new talent.