What is ‘ambient’ AI for lawyers? An explainer

As AI and large language models become more ingrained in legal practice, a new way to describe AI is emerging. Enter ‘ambient AI’, a legal assistant that manages systems and delivers insights, without demanding constant user attention. This means it quietly operates in the background taking care of mundane tasks and routine legal work.

Sounds like a futuristic concept, but ambient AI is becoming a reality. AI has been developing discreetly for years, integrating into various technologies without users even being aware of its presence.

In the end, ambient AI will be everywhere too, quietly impacting our actions without us noticing it. The Thomson Reuters’ Future of Professionals Report – Asia & Emerging Markets Edition shows that more than three in five professionals agree, with 64% expecting artificial intelligence will have a ‘transformative’ or ‘high impact’ on their profession.

What is ambient AI, and what does it do?

Think of ambient AI as an AI assistant working for you behind the scenes. AI can analyse vast amounts ofdata to find patterns and trends in lawyers’ cases and clients. Offering this level of tailored advice can transform client service and case outcomes. This will allow legal professionals to focus on important work, leading to better results for clients and the business.

David Wong, Chief Product Officer for Thomson Reuters, believes there will be a rise in ‘AI assistants‘ for lawyers, especially in legal research. “Work that would have normally taken days across half a dozen products, (can be) done in a few hours,” he said at the SYNERGY Legal Conference held in Sydney on 21 March 2024.

David Wong speaks at SYNERGY
Pictured: David Wong, Chief Product Officer for Thomson Reuters speaks at SYNERGY Legal in Sydney on 21 March, 2024.

Here are five practical use cases of ambient AI for lawyers:

1. Legal research assistance

Ambient AI constantly checks legal databases, court decisions, and past cases in real-time. This provides lawyers with instant access to relevant information and case law. This not only saves time on legal research, but keeps lawyers always up to date on the latest developments in their field.

2. Document drafting and review

Ambient AI can assist lawyers in drafting and reviewing legal documents, contracts, and briefs. It can check language, suggest changes, and find errors. This automation makes creating documents easier, more accurate, and reduces the chance of mistakes.

3. Task management and scheduling

AI can help lawyers manage their schedules and organise tasks by deadlines and importance. It can remind you of meetings, court dates, and deadlines. By automating routine administrative tasks, lawyers can focus on higher-value activities that require their expertise.

4. Client communication and relationship management

Ambient AI can analyse emails, transcripts, and meeting notes to find important information, understand client preferences, suggest personalised communication tactics. This enables lawyers to build stronger client relationships, anticipate client needs and provide tailored legal advice and services.

5. Regulatory compliance

Ambient AI can monitor changes in legislation, regulations, and compliance requirements relevant to a lawyer’s practice area and jurisdiction.

By staying ahead of regulatory changes, lawyers can actively guide clients on compliance matters and mitigate legal risks.

AI will keep learning

Ambient AI’s strength is its constant learning from interactions and integrations. It always improves its algorithms with new data, laws, and feedback from users. This makes the system work better and give better help as time goes on.

Ethical and privacy considerations

The increasing use of AI in legal tasks brings up issues related to ethics, privacy, and the protection of data. To address these concerns, companies need to create clear rules about how they use data. This includes transparent communication with clients about the deployment of ambient AI tools.

Legal professionals must watch out for biases in AI algorithms to prevent discrimination in legal proceedings. Some governments are looking into ways to regulate AI, and AI regulations in Australia are currently being addressed.

The role of human judgement

Ambient AI can make work easier and more efficient by providing reliable support. However, even with this progress, legal work still needs human decision-making. David predicts AI assistants will ‘augment’ rather than replace the work of lawyers. Its use will merely enhance their ability to make more informed decisions.

Nearly half of all law firm professionals surveyed in the Future of Professionals Report: Asia & Emerging Markets Edition, believe that AI can help deliver growth by increasing efficiency of internal processes (48%) and improving collaboration within the firm (47%).

What’s on the horizon for ambient AI?

Ambient AI will continue to evolve and work with new technologies. Some examples include blockchain for contracts and augmented reality for courtrooms. This synergy could redefine privacy, efficiency and the overall approach to legal proceedings.

David Wong postured the future of AI assistants at the SYNERGY Legal Conference held in Sydney on 21 March 2024. “In three to five years every professional will have a TR generative AI assistant. This will be an assistant that you can delegate substantive professional tasks to just as you would to any person on your team.”

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