Futurist predictions of artificial intelligence (AI) rendering the profession redundant are overblown, the International Bar Association heard.

A panel on 'Artificial intelligence: preparing lawyers for new technology in practice' agreed that innovations such as technology-assisted document review are becoming mainstream – but that advising clients still requires the human touch.

'AI is incapable of coming up with creative legal arguments', said Sajai Singh of J. Sagar Associates, Bangalore, who also suggested that the law is the slowest of all professions to embrace AI technology.

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said that the market is 'clearly embracing AI in its work' with 22 major firms publicly acknowledging its use. 'These are mostly large commercial firms but we believe this will soon spread,' she said.

One example is Italian firm NCTM. Managing partner Vittorio Noseda said that it has invested heavily over 15 years in a system to capture partners' expert knowledge.

It is now capable of automating the drafting of 60-page commercial contracts 'so that even the most stupid associate would not make a mistake'. But he suggested the future might see a digital divide between firms that could afford that kind of investment - 'firms with 75 people dealing with ICT' - and those that have to rely on off-the-shelf systems. 

The panel also agreed that questions of tort and accountability when decisions are made by artificial intelligence remain unresolved. 

As for the question of whether AI would make whole swathes of the profession redundant, Dixon noted that academic studies are contradictory. 'The picture is more complicated than sometimes painted in the media. The profession will re-invent itself as it has so often in the past,' she said.

Read the Gazette's live blog from the IBA here