The rise in artificial intelligence-based systems will not spell the end of lawyers but it could mean mean fewer law firms by 2030.

The widespread adoption of automation software across the industry will also make it more challenging to enter the profession, particularly for junior lawyers.

That is the view of Paul Knight, who heads up the commercial, IP and IT team at the Manchester office of law firm Mills & Reeve.

He advises clients on issues relating to AI and automation technology – and also leads the firm's exploration and implementation of these new technologies.

Knight believes that AI will make a "huge difference" to the type of work that law firms do as automation software takes over laborious and time-consuming tasks like reviewing documents or comparing contracts.

"AI is going to take on the role that a lot of junior lawyers and paralegals currently perform at law firms," he told BusinessCloud.

"There won't be the need for lawyers to review hundreds of documents or produce the first draft of a contract.

"The role should become more interesting, with the focus being on developing advisory skills, not processing and managing documents."

Although good news for the legal profession, Knight admits there will be fewer practicing lawyers and it will become more difficult to get into the sector.

"AI and automation mean that a firm can take on more work because matters can be completed more quickly and physical capacity is not such an issue," he said.

"Unless there's more work to go around, that's going to potentially mean that the work will only be going to the best and brightest law firms.

paul knight

"That will probably be fewer law firms in 2030 than there are now and there are almost certainly going to be fewer lawyers practicing.

"It will get harder to get into the profession but there will be new roles and specialisms within law firms."

The costs associated with implementing AI and automation systems within a professional services firm still remains one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of widespread adoption, Knight says.

Changing the industry’s perception of AI and automation technologies is also a major challenge.

"One key point I’ve learned about introducing AI and automation into a large professional services firm is that, at the moment, success or failure is predominantly dictated by people and culture rather than the technology itself," Knight said.

"I've spoken to the heads of innovation and technology at other firms and they quite often say that innovative tech is adopted by one or two forward-thinking partners who can see its use in a particular context but then it’s really hard to encourage wider adoption across a sizeable firm.

"At this stage you need people to buy in to the importance of AI. We need to move away from the attitude that 'AI is scary and it’s going to take all our jobs'. People need to understand the benefits that AI can bring."

Knight was speaking at Pro-Manchester's annual business conference, discussing the future impact of AI and technology on businesses.