Should a law student study company secretary (CS) course?

Pursuing the company secretary (CS) course simultaneously with a law degree has been a very sought-after choice for law students, especially those who want to work in the corporate sector (in a law firm or as in-house counsels). Many students have asked me how the CS course impacts their career prospects, so I thought of assimilating my thoughts here.

The CS is a very reputed course which has been consistently been conducted by the Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI). It is one of the oldest corporate law-related courses. Another popular course is the CA (Chartered Accountancy) course, but it is primarily pursued by those lawyers who intend to specialize in tax laws. For those who do not want to focus on tax, the CS course continues to remain the most popular choice. What is its relevance to for a law student’s career? What are its benefits and how does it impact your future prospects?

  • The CS course is well-structured and covers the Companies Act very comprehensively. As it provides a high amount of specialized information, law students prefer taking it up, because the 5 or 3-year law course does not offer equivalent opportunities for specialization.
  • The CS course focuses on compliance. Compliance has a very specific meaning here – every business is required to maintaining specific registers and file certain kinds of information with the government or regulatory authorities in a specific format. Under the law, company secretaries have the responsibility to ensure that companies have duly kept such registers and made necessary filings in respect of their business-related actions. They are responsible for performing secretarial work.
  • Corporate lawyers have a very different role to play, whether they are working in law firms or as in-house counsel in a company. Typically, they may be involved in structuring business deals, contract negotiation, such as negotiating licenses, investment agreements, or in performing the legal actions and documentation necessary for a particular transaction, or in advising management on strategic business decisions, as:

“Should you locate a business in an SEZ?”

“Should you take a foreign loan for your business?”

“Should a real estate business be structured as an LLP?”

Their primary role is not to perform Companies Act compliance.

  • Recruiters hire on the basis of skills instead of qualifications. In the absence of sufficient people who possess necessary skills up to the desired levels, they have no option but to rely on preliminary indicators. Completing the CS course indicates that one at least understands the Companies Act and has a sense of corporate compliance. However, a lot of young lawyers are simultaneously pursuing CS to acquire additional knowledge, so to differentiate yourself and be employable, just mentioning the CS qualification in your CV is not sufficient by itself – you should be in a position to substantiate what you have learnt in the CS course and how it will add value to you as a lawyer when you practice. This is the tricky part.

How to find out for yourself what business lawyers and company secretaries do

If you want to work as a business lawyer, one thing you should work on finding out is – what kind of work does a business lawyer or a law firm partner actually do? To what extent do the skillsets of a business lawyer and company secretary overlap? I have briefly mentioned the role of a business lawyer earlier already, but you might want to consider speaking to others in your network who are either CS or business lawyers. Try not to rely exclusively on the opinions of your faculty, unless they have actually worked in the industry, either as CS or lawyers, or your batchmates.

It is important to identify the overlaps in the role of a CS and a business lawyer – you will then know how the CS course will help you and have a plan to cover up the ground on the areas that don’t overlap. You may need to acquire the balance skills through other methods – such as taking up other courses, acquiring skills through your own work (by doing research and talking to people) or doing specific kinds of internships.

Should you pursue CS? How will it impact your career?

It depends on how you intend to use the CS degree or the knowledge imparted by it. In fact, I’ll suggest that you get hold of the CS modules from a friend and try reading them. You will be quickly able to find out what you will learn. Try to get internships at a company, a law firm or a startup (you could even try research internships around business laws with us). When you intern, be conscious of how you are using what you learnt while reading the CS books or pursuing the CS course. I am sure there will be many ways in which you will find it to be helpful.

This brings you to the next stage of inquiry. Try to assess if your learning is adequate or if there is a gap between what you learnt and the skill-set level required to perform your work effectively. If there is a gap, can you bridge that in some way? Internships and training assignments are structured for performing work that helps the organization perform its work or serve clients, but they may not be optimized for learning. In any case, you may want to ensure that the learning process continues even after the internship or industry training is over, so searching for systematic and structured ways to acquire the missing skills is useful. Identifying relevant courses and books to bridge these skills may be a good idea. One relevant course could be this. I have myself attended many courses and workshops which have helped me design my career according to my life goals.

Finally, the questions you should be thinking of –

How do you intend to use the CS course in getting to your destination? Does it meet your requirement completely or is there a gap? Is there something you can do to fill that gap?

Abhyudaya Agarwal is a founder of iPleaders, a legal education venture which is committed to helping young lawyers succeed through various initiatives (such as this business law diploma course). You can write to him at abhyudaya@ipleaders.in.

About Abhyudaya Agarwal

Abhyudaya is a former restructuring lawyer turned entrepreneur. He writes on business laws, online education and interesting startup stories. He heads content development and operations at iPleaders, a legal education startup he co-founded.

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