Oct 13, 2020 • 34M

🔊 #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) 

Resources Mentioned


  • 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 

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 

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