ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand

Legal Gymnastics – How Can Lawyers Go Agile?

Legal Gymnastics – How Can Lawyers Go Agile?

By Larissa Vaughan, Head of Legal Wealth and Digital Lead Lawyer at Kiwibank| 22 August 2017

I’ve been working with agile tech teams for a couple of years now. Mostly it’s fun, with the expected technical legal challenges trying to determine what law applies in novel situations. But where agile has really tested me is in how I provide legal advice. 

In agile projects we are usually trying to solve a customer problem, there’s no defined end state and the process is full of sprints, pivots, and MVPs. So an old school style of giving legal advice doesn’t work. Here’s what I’ve learnt about being a lawyer in agile projects:

• You have to be there: Attend the daily stand ups, sit with the project team when you can, worm your way into the design and feedback process. 

• Go tech: Work out how to use Trello boards, Kanban, Slack, Post it notes. Use the communication and management system the project team uses, but remember to preserve legal privilege. 

• Learn the lingo: Know your backlog from your beta test, when to stand up, sprint and sit down, know your Trello from your Kanban. Google it or ask the team.

• The law still rules: A minimum viable product (MVP) still has to be a compliant product. Distil and communicate the critical legal issues. Consider drafting MVP legal specifications. 

• Play to your audience: A densely worded legal opinion won’t cut it and is likely to be out of date before you’ve finished it. Think about delivering your legal advice in different ways: customer journeys, story boards, diagrams and flow charts and tables. Nail the core legal principles up front so you and the team are clear on those and deliver micro advice along the way. As the product development twists and turns this allows your advice to evolve as well.

• Agree on the legal ground rules: Talk to the project team about what legal sign off looks like. Be clear on what an acceptable level of legal risk is and what’s not. For example this can be expressed as a red, orange, green traffic light system.

• Be bold: If the law is restricting what your team is building, consider how you could change the product or service, could it be a hybrid? Thinking about the essential elements of the law and the policy behind it can help you take a fresh tack. Can you change the law, write submissions, get an exemption, authorisation or re-designation?

Agile projects offer an opportunity for lawyers to be involved at the coal face – it’s fascinating but not for the fainthearted. 

I’m interested to hear from other lawyers about how they have adjusted to working in agile projects. You can contact me on