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White & Case

International thought leadership

In the wake of a possible Grexit, in the summer of 2015, thoughts turned to the unlikely possibility that Britain would also leave Europe. US law firm White & Case turned to Nisus for an independent study of what industry in the UK, Europe and the US was doing by way of contingency planning. The answer was very little.

Despite widespread consensus that the EU referendum was a pretty safe bet that the UK would vote to stay in Europe and the Single Market, with the uncertainty around Greece, White & Case thought their global client base would be interested to hear what industry’s take was on Brexit and what they were doing to prepare for the worst.

Starting off with an online survey to members of the German Banking Association in Frankfurt, the aim was to capture a general cross-section of views before deepening the research with telephone interviews globally with General Counsels and other senior managers from a cross-section of businesses and industries. The result was overwhelmingly conclusive – with 43% of respondents stating they were ‘very’ or ‘quite concerned’ about the possibility of Brexit from a legal point of view, but that not one of the companies interviewed had taken formal steps to prepare for that eventuality. It may have been on the radar, but so far as boards were concerned, it was not top of the ‘to do’ list.

The significance of the report was that the research, carried out in late autumn and winter, showed a clear lack of preparation of senior in-house legal decision makers, despite their growing concerns about the referendum that was to follow. The second stage of the research involved personal interviews with senior legal decision makers, as well as other non-legal senior managers, 91% of whom completely or broadly agreed that a Brexit would “jeopardise Britain’s trade with its major commercial partner.” Nobody thought Brexit was a good idea from an economic or business point of view.

“The fact that Nisus did a good job for us on this project was evidenced by the fact that the FT conducted its own survey a few weeks later and drew exactly the same conclusion. But we got there first!”

Matthew Fuller – Director of Business Development and Marketing EMEA, White & Case

The findings were written up in a report, printed and distributed to relevant clients. They were also used as the basis of a client breakfast seminar, where Andrew Neill chaired a debate about the implications of staying or going. It also allowed White & Case to present itself as one of the leading advisers on the legal implications of Brexit.

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