Ding, ding, all aboard as time recording market takes on new shape

by Phil Wedgwood, CEO, Rekoop

When the latest Legal IT Insider UK Top 200 systems chart was published in April, it was notable for a new inclusion – a column for specialist, 3rd party Time Recording software. The data within revealed a vendor market dominated by three suppliers – IntApp, Carpe Diem and Rekoop – although the lack of any historical data made it difficult to detect market sentiment, to distinguish what was legacy and what was in vogue.

But what really struck me was that only a third of the top tier law firms had rolled out dedicated time recording products – which compared unfavourably with the two thirds of firms who have done so in the US. At that time, however, I fully expected things to change, for the time recording tide to start running more swiftly in the UK. This was based on my own experience of increased enquiries and heightened interest when doing the rounds of finance and IT directors.

And when I looked at our sales pipeline it was clear that there was indeed a strengthening demand out there. Internally, we developed this analogy of time recording adoption being a bit like catching a bus. The third of firms who had already deployed time recording were on the first bus, and this has already left and they’re enjoying the ‘early bird’ benefits. We had a second bus arriving, which we expected to fill as another third of firms woke up to the potential and looked to set off in hot pursuit of the first bus. And then we had a final bus, a bit of a worn out, tired old vehicle which was not really going anywhere – and was symbolic of what faced the final third of firms if they chose to do nothing.

The slight unknown at that point was how fast this second bus would fill – but just three months down the line it is getting pretty packed in there and certainly supports our original contention that the tide was only going to strengthen.

The main catalyst for this ‘tidal surge’ appears to be the growing dissatisfaction with time recording functionality available to firms through their PMS. Development is not keeping up with requirements, especially in this increasingly mobile era and amidst a bewildering array of often overlapping interactions and communication channels. Just how does a fee earner record that hour’s train journey to client A, half of which he spent working for client B and which was interrupted by two phone calls for clients C and D?

There’s less concern about completed timesheets these days, more about the accuracy of records submitted. I’ve sat with many finance team in recent months and while they regularly receive timesheets with the stipulated 6 or 7 hours recorded, they don’t necessarily trust the exactitude of the author in reconstructing his or her day.

But these teams need quality data, data they can believe in and use as the basis for decision-making. We’ve moved on a fair way from time recording as a blunt tool to record more and therefore charge more. Yes, firms have one eye on leakage but while it would be disingenuous to say that extra billings are not a partial influence here, the onus is far more on capturing actual time data – the precise start and finish, with correct matter assignment and an appropriate narrative. Narrative substantiates activity, providing an audit trail of work, potentially evidencing scope creep, and providing useful justification in the event of a billing query. And for this data capture to happen regardless of how many simultaneous or overlapping tasks are being undertaken, or indeed where they are being undertaken.

With this high quality data set comes much more certain decision-making. We are hearing this repeatedly now. Time is a fundamental measure of cost within a law firm and if individual and team performance is to be measured, if client profitability is to be gauged, if WIP, write-downs and budgeting are to be managed effectively, then the time/cost equation has to be fully understood. The old database adage, rubbish in, rubbish out, applies here – if you are to analyse time for business advantage, then you have to be sure you are analysing a truthful time picture, not an approximate one that may conceal or divert or mislead.

It’s a dynamic that is shaping today’s time recording market for sure. Back to the bus analogy and the boarding of ‘passengers’ has certainly had an effect on market share. Of all the time recording deals publicly announced over the last quarter, Rekoop has secured every one: Harbottle & Lewis, Bevan Brittan, Gateley, Michelmores, Walker Morris and FBC Manby Bowdler. (Indeed, Rekoop has not lost a competitive bid in the last 12 months to any of its competitors.) So in just three months Rekoop has grown its market share by 65%, taking it to 10% of the overall top 200; this compares with Carpe’s 11.5% and IntApp’s 15%, which have remained static. The figures also need to be seen in the context of the IntApp acquisition of DTE, where consolidation significantly upped the quotable IntApp sites; and of Carpe’s legacy status as the default time entry application up to about five years ago.

There’s a big difference between having the biggest market share and being the market leader. Law firms need to look at the position of supplying companies in the moment, not based on historic events such as mergers and aged installations. We’ve set our stall out as a pure play time specialist, free of the distractions of developing diverse product lines or consolidating product sets and user bases. Firms are responding to this because they are waking up to the value of recordable time beyond its obvious chargeability – and they are demanding a specialist tool that can record, monitor and analyse time efficiently, effectively and economically. It’s certainly a clear and present need if the state of the second bus is anything to go by.