Supporting M&A Transactions Across Life Sciences and Consumer Companies
By Axiom Law
Get to know Essence McGill Arzu at a glance:
- 20 + years of experience
- Partner at a prominent law firm
- Engaged on the global operations/corporate governance legal team supporting M&A work for multiple corporate reorganization and realignment projects at an F100 consumer & services company
- JD from Columbia Law School
With over twenty years of experience in the financial services and life sciences industries, longtime Axiom lawyer Essence McGill Arzu brings dedication, empathy, and finely-honed legal skills to her Axiom clients. After graduating from Columbia Law School, she sharpened her skills for over a decade at law firms in New York and Boston. Since joining Axiom in 2014, she has worked on mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, and corporate governance work at Fortune 100 companies in the financial services, consumer and services, and pharmaceutical industries.In addition to her work with Axiom, Essence runs a private law practice with her husband that’s devoted to small businesses and nonprofits. “We work with communities that don’t normally have access to quality legal services, and roughly 65 percent are women- or minority-run organizations,” she says.
Building a professional life and making partner shaped by an international view
Essence is a seasoned attorney with no shortage of experience. Before Columbia, she earned a master’s degree in Russian studies from Harvard and always felt drawn to international matters. This influenced her decision to pursue a legal career with an international focus and become a business lawyer with a global scope. Her focus carried her through law school and into her first role as an associate with a small New York law firm that had offices all over the world.
While she focused on general corporate work as an M&A lawyer, throughout her four years at the firm she also worked on bank financing, equity financing, offshore work, and corporate governance matters, and was eventually sent to Russia on assignment.
After relocating to Boston in 2004, Essence began work at Foley Hoag, where she stayed for a decade. There she tackled general corporate work, while she made a name for herself as she developed a specialty in bank and debt finance. After six years of outstanding service, she made partner – a title that was held by only one other African American woman in Boston at a large law firm at that time. “The partner title was a feather in my cap, and it gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities as a lawyer,” she says.Taking her career to the next level at Axiom
Essence’s interests have always been in practicing law, doing great work, and making a positive impact on her community. As a partner, she found she was under pressure to spend more time leveraging relationships to drive new business than practicing law. When she discovered Axiom, Essence jumped at the opportunity to step into a new work model where she could work directly with a variety of clients and focus her legal practice.
The Axiom model also gave her the flexibility to open up a small law firm with her husband and focus on serving small business and nonprofit clients. “Axiom work keeps me grounded in what’s going on in the industry and staying involved in large transactions at global companies, while my own firm keeps me connected to my community and makes me feel like I’m using my legal degree for good,” she says.
Essence’s first Axiom engagement was with a large insurance company, after which she began an engagement doing M&A work with a multinational Fortune 100 financial services organization. Her next project was a corporate restructuring matter for another Fortune 100 company that straddled the financial services and industrial sectors.
“I found it really interesting, because moving one asset from one company to another company can have a downstream effect on so many things in the business,” says Essence.
At Essence’s engagements, she was often asked to pivot and take on additional projects. During her engagement at an F100 consumer and services company, she took on more responsibility as the team got to know her skills and experience. “Once I got there and they realized what I could do, I was added to three other internal businesses that were also doing restructuring,” she says. “I became part of the go-to team for the more gnarly restructuring pieces, because I was able to bring these projects forward amidst all the chaos.”
Currently, she’s engaged at two different securities and corporate governance assignments for two different pharmaceutical companies.
It’s a nod to the many traits that make Essence a standout corporate lawyer. She has a knack for making sense of large volumes of complex information, then translating it into coherent conversations with her team about next steps – again, harmonizing chaos.Understanding the value of a business lawyer
Essence’s law firm days also taught her to see lawyers as other businesspeople – instead of people who are separate from the business.
“We’re not just lawyers, we’re business lawyers, so we’re supposed to really understand the business and how the legal piece of it helps assess the business risk,” she says. “It’s about more than just interpreting the law.”
It’s this mindset that’s helped Essence thrive as a corporate attorney and pave the way for more than a few career highlights. Making partner tops the list, but she was also very proud when a recent Axiom client told her they valued her as much as any of their in-house lawyers.
“They trusted me to take a project and let me run with it, even though I was a consultant, because they couldn’t tell I was a consultant,” she says. “That felt amazing – getting to know enough of the business that I knew what their pressure points were.”
Infusing public service into legal work and free time
The Axiom model has allowed Essence to achieve a more sustainable work-life balance that leaves room for her public service work and personal passions. A classically trained ballet dancer, she is still connected to ballet and works to support the arts any chance she gets. She also loves sporting events – a passion she inherited from her father.
Public service is another passion for Essence, who chairs a youth program for her sorority that focuses on STEAM initiatives (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) for fifth-to-eighth-grade girls.
“We try to do activities that teach them leadership skills, and we try to have fun with them, too – to be Black women working with Black girls, and teaching them they can be whatever they want to be,” says Essence.Staying connected and avoiding burnout as the legal industry evolves
Like the rest of us, Essence is adapting to the fact that her ordinary work routines have been turned completely upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s requiring her to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“The work I’m doing right now, which is securities and corporate governance work, hasn’t gone away,” she says. “It’s actually gotten amplified. The question is, how do you import those everyday practices into a virtual model?”
Essence sees some of these solutions lasting long after the pandemic ends. Any technology platform that streamlines tasks we’d otherwise do manually will likely continue to be utilized. The same goes for specific legal work stemming from these uncertain times, from unemployment law to civil rights law.
“All of those things are connected, and each has a trickle-down effect to all the regular legal work that we do,” she adds. “When a company decides to do a layoff, it’s not just the nuts and bolts of doing it. It’s what effect that will have on those other workstreams. For example, you’re going to get sued more, so you need more litigators.”
Of course, additional work cropping up on top of the challenges lawyers are already dealing with could end up putting even more pressure on them. For the legal industry, Essence sees open and honest communication between lawyers and their higher-ups as the answer.
“The more companies can support people and provide them with examples of creating a work rhythm for their day that works for them and gets the work done, I think the better they’ll be able to monitor lawyer burnout,” she says. “It’s about staying connected and creating boundaries between the workday and private, personal time.”
As we continue to navigate this tricky new terrain, Essence recognizes how racial tensions in our country have only created more stress and escalated feelings of anxiety, and points to diversity as a crucial part of how the legal industry needs to evolve.
“There’s really an importance of thinking about diversity of thought and experience as a high priority,” she says. “The more conversations you have among people who have different experiences, the more issues you can be prepared for as an organization.”
If you’re looking to build a dynamic, diverse team of experienced legal professionals and work with lawyers Essence, we’d love to work together
How Axiom lawyer and team lead David McIntyre helps a major sportswear company make real progress toward their business goals.
Axiom Lawyer Nancy Siegel brings over 20 years of combined experience in the life sciences and insurance regulatory industries to her work with global pharmaceutical companies.
Experts on workouts, loan restructuring, and special asset management discuss how legal leaders can address distressed loan portfolios.