The “Assisting the Apprentice” (ATA) series is a series of columns where we look at popular qualifications and/or examinations that the law student of today is interested in. We interview those who have successfully cleared the examination and/or the attained the qualification, and have some advice for future applicants.
In this column, we take a look at the Company Secretary (CS) qualification offered by the Institute of Company Secretaries of India.
Our contributors for this ATA are:
Ishank Gupta (Completed CS in 2021)
Khushi Thakker (Currently undergoing CS Practical Training)
Shikhar Pandey (Completed CS in 2020)
Before we get to what our panellists had to say, let us start with the basics first.
The Institute of Company Secretaries of India, which falls under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, oversees the CS qualification process and also grants a Certificate of Practice to all Company Secretaries in India. As per the ICSI, there are currently 65,000 CS members in the country.
And what does a CS do?
As per the popular employment website, Careers360, “Company secretaries aid in filing, registering, presenting, attesting or verifying any documents (including forms, applications and returns) by or on behalf of the company, a share transfer agent, an issue house, a secretarial auditor or consultant.”
Why do the CS and law?
There are multiple reasons why a law student or law graduate may choose to pursue the CS course. For Ishank Gupta, there were three reasons: enhanced knowledge of corporate law, access to multiple career options, and the fact that the CS is a useful tool for first-generation lawyers to have with them.
Khushi Thakker, who initially did not take the CS course too seriously, was drawn by the knowledge that the course offered, “not just about the law, but about companies, securities market and the business at large.”
Hence, a big driver to pursue the CS course are the professional avenues that open up. These avenues include the traditional, as well as the up and coming.
Explains Shikhar Pandey, “Traditional options include working as either full time compliance officer or in-house legal counsel or both legal counsels and compliance officer of the company. Being a CS offers another advantage as a CS is recognized as one of the KMP of the company under the Companies Act 2013, while an in-house legal counsel is yet to be recognized as a KMP.”
On the other hand, says Pandey, a CS qualification can also make one better suited for careers such as a legal journalist covering economic news, ESG analysts, and those in the dispute resolution space.
Furthermore, in March last year, the University Grants Commission recognised the CS qualification as equivalent to a post-graduation degree.
The ICSI also provides with a detailed list of career trajectories one can take up after completing the course.
How should one approach the CS examinations?
Says Thakker, “One has to be clear with regards to one’s strengths. properly strategize and plan the target for scores, because it is generally believed that scoring 60 marks in at least two subjects makes it easier to reach the passing point. One has to remember the keywords provided in the module and be very clear about the concepts. Most of the papers are majorly based on situational questions”
Adds Pandey, “The exam pattern mainly involves testing the individual's practical knowledge and to know whether the student is capable of entering into the corporate world. One cannot just go and expect straightforward questions. One needs regular studying and equipping themselves with the latest judicial as well as the statutory developments.”
Ishank Gupta stresses on the need to practice solving previous year’s papers. Practice the questions,” he says, “and learn what to write and what to leave.” In fact, he has even shared his thoughts in this YouTube video where he walks through the strategies one can use for successfully completing the CS examinations.
How does one become a Company Secretary?
The CS qualification process can be broken down into three stages, says Pandey.
The first stage consists of the Company Secretary Executive Entrance Test (CSEET), an online MCQ based exam. According to Thakker, the CSEET is “similar to that of the CET and CLAT as given by the law students.”
The last CSEET held in May 2022 had a pass rate of 67.17%
Next comes the CS Executive level.
This, says Thakker, “consists of two modules of four subjects each. The passing requirements of the examination is such that, one has to score 40 out of 100 in each subject and 50% aggregate overall and, in each module, as well. However, even if one of these criteria is not met then the person fails the exam.”
In the last CS Executive Exams conducted in December, 2021, the pass rates were as follows:
(Old Syllabus) Examination
Module I: 18.11%
Module II: 14.57%
(New Syllabus) Examination
Module I: 9.64%
Module II: 21.91%
The third stage is the CS Professional having three modules of nine papers, and one Elective which includes the like of Insurance Law and Practice, Forensic Audit, and Direct Tax Law and Practice.
You can read more about this on the ICSI website here,
In the last CS Professional Exams conducted in December, 2021, the pass rates were as follows:
Old Syllabus Examination
Module I: 35.55%
Module II: 28.57 %
Module II: 36.07 %
New Syllabus Examination
Module I: 27.38%
Module II: 20.37 %
Module II: 41.26 %
The examinations are not the only part of the qualification process though; there is also a training structure as detailed by the ICSI.
This training structure includes:
Executive Development Programme for 1-month (EDP) after passing CS Executive
Practical training for 21-months after completion of EDP
Corporate Leadership Development Programme (CLDP) for 30-60 days after passing CS Professional
Do note that only certain types of entities are allowed to impart this training, which earlier would include universities and law firms. However, the ICSI has issued a clarification in this regard which reads,
“Registration of Law firms and Universities for the purpose of imparting long term practical training has been discontinued. However, the existing students undergoing training in Law firm and Universities are allowed to continue and complete their training.”
Some of the useful resources Gupta has used in his journey include:
The MCA website for latest developments
The SEBI website.
Bar & Bench for latest judicial development and articles
The IBC law reporter
Blogs like Indian constitutional law philosophy, India Corp law.
Shikhar Pandey: Taking out time to relax is one thing that students often ignore and what they do is stress a lot studying continuously. One should avoid stress because one of the main reasons to score less in these types of competitive exams is stress.
Khushi Thakker: Even with passing all three exams in first attempt, becoming a Company Secretary is a 5-year journey. Failing an exam will add 6 months to your journey. It is totally okay to not pass the exam in the first attempt, as the passing percentages is as low as 10%. However, one should not be disheartened, one should keep at it, be motivated and keep in mind why one started this journey in the first place.”
Ishank Gupta: If one is really interested in corporate and business law then there is nothing harmful in pursuing the Company Secretary course along with law.