Artificial intelligence will not have a radical impact on the legal profession in the next 25 years, the head of a technology-enabled new legal brand has said.

Mark Edwards (pictured), vice-president of Rocket Lawyer UK, believes the legal industry will look different in 10 years’ time, with legal services moving online and these services being purchased online becoming the norm.

But he predicted that AI would not have a radical impact on the profession ‘in our lifetime’.

Participating in a Thomson Reuters legal debate yesterday, Edwards said the profession was using AI tools, such as document automation, and that simple legal work was partially being automated with AI apps.

He acknowledged that machines were becoming increasingly intelligent, doubling up speed every 18 months. ‘But will we have robot lawyers soon? No – we’ll just have faster apps,’ he said.

AI legal professionals would require machines that could perform most of the cognitive functions of a human lawyer well, Edwards said. ‘Crucially, there needs to be a deep understanding of the law and the world [to be able to] advise, negotiate, arbitrate, advocate and judge.’

Asked at the start of the debate whether AI would fail to have a radical impact on the legal profession, 14% of the audience, which consisted mostly of practising lawyers, agreed with the statement. Nearly half disagreed; a quarter were undecided.

Edward Chan, a partner at magic circle firm Linklaters, said big law firms tend to organise themselves in pyramids, with a small number of partners, and a slightly larger number of associates and maybe some trainees.

He said: ‘One of the sources of tension the industry faces is this complaint from clients that there is a lack of correlation between the value-add and the time spent.

‘That’s quite crucial because cost pressure on clients themselves means that deploying the full pyramid in the way we currently have is already looking quite challenging irrespective of the state of technology.’

Chan said competitive pressures were leading law firms to use AI. ‘What you tend to find with a new entrant or someone wanting to establish a better position in a particular market [is they] decide to use this to disrupt the competition,’ he added.

Following the debate, just over half believed AI would fail to have a radical impact on the legal profession; 48% disagreed and only 1% were undecided.