The world of law offers a myriad of career paths, each with its own unique demands and opportunities. One such path combines the expertise of a Company Secretary (CS) and the comprehensive legal knowledge gained through pursuing a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. This dual journey allows legal professionals to navigate the complexities of corporate law with finesse, ensuring compliance, providing legal counsel, and contributing to the smooth functioning of businesses.
In this insightful interview, we have the privilege of speaking with Pratik Sankpal, a Legal Manager at ZF Group, who embarked on this dual journey and has gained valuable experience in the field. Pratik's decision to pursue both CS and LLB stemmed from his fascination with corporate law and his desire to explore non-traditional fields within the legal sphere.
Join us as Pratik shares his personal journey and explores the intersection of Company Secretary and LLB, and gain valuable insights from his experiences in the realm of corporate law.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to pursue a career in law? How would you describe your law school experience?
After completing my 12th grade, I pursued B.com (so in short din't really do much) However, during my second year of graduation, I realized that I needed to pursue a career that aligned with my interests. Law was one subject that I was fascinated about and being a corporate lawyer was something that I candidly decided on (as juvenile as it may sound that was it).
Seeking guidance from experienced individuals in the legal field and my seniors, I made the decision to pursue an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) and CS (Company Secretary) concurrently. To embark on this journey, I relocated to Pune from my Hometown (Kolhapur) and commenced my studies in CS while pursuing LLB from DES Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune. This was in 2014. Managing studies for CS and ensuring attendance in law school was always challenging, I still remember choosing CS tuitions not based on the faculty but based on how that would fit my days’ time frame. Attending law school in the morning (7.30 ~ 12.00 -1.00) and then CS classes in the afternoon (2.30 ~ 6.00) was one hectic routine which continued for at least 3 months - 4 months twice a year and 3 years. Now when I look back at it, I realize that the process improved my time management and multi-tasking skills.
Speaking about faculty members at CS classes and Law School the experience was overall good. The in-depth knowledge of certain laws viz., Constitution, Drafting, and Contract was beneficial to me in CS exams, and vice versa I remember studying just 1 day before the Company law paper in Law School because I had depth prepared for the same during my CS level -2 exams.
Undertaking LLB and CS simultaneously proved to be a demanding yet immensely gratifying experience. For a mediocre 20-year-old student like me appearing for four exams every year — two exams for law and two for CS was a great teacher enabling me to push my own limits.
2. What motivated you to pursue the Company Secretary (CS) course?
As I said earlier, the realm of corporate law captivated me, drawing my interest towards pursuing the Company Secretary (CS), talking to a few seniors in the field I realized that it held the potential to unlock opportunities in the corporate world. Moreover, the fact that I did not come from a family which had lawyers/advocates, I was certain that I wanted to focus on corporate law and CS offered a pathway to explore non-traditional fields of law viz., taxation, FEMA, Stock exchange compliance etc., that were not commonly found in Indian law schools. Along with the corporate/business laws, it also offered learning of accounting standards, financial management and costing, which increased my financial acumen, and provided a profound understanding of taxation laws.
In my view, pursuing a law degree alongside CS offers distinct advantages of its own. The two fields complement each other, and striking the right balance is essential. I strongly believe that the practical examples incorporated in the CS curriculum, combined with the depth of legal knowledge gained in law school, can be leveraged to one's benefit. It becomes crucial to find the right balance in subjects where the two overlap. For instance, law school provided a more comprehensive understanding of Constitutional laws, Labour Laws I remember leveraging those learnings in one of the subjects called Economics, Labour and General laws in CS Level-2 exams covering nearly 10-15 marks easily of 100 marks subject (in a competitive exam those 10 marks are very crucial). Achieving the right balance between the two courses can work wonders for students.
3. Most law students are confused about whether they should invest their time in studying CS as it's a time-consuming course. What would you say to them?
When contemplating the pursuit of a CS course alongside law studies, it is crucial for law students to consider the time commitment involved. The duration of a CS course can range from 3.5 to 5 years (or even more) till you become a member of ICSI (Institute of Company Secretaries of India), depending on various factors, a simple one being whether you clear it in the first exams or not (attempts is what we used to call them “cleared in 1st Attempt” was something everyone targeted). When I embarked on this journey, I had a clear mindset that I would devote around 3.5 to 4 years of my career to it. If I couldn't accomplish it within that timeframe, I wouldn't dwell on it. CS – Finals (Level -3) was the only level I failed once and cleared on my second attempt.
Pursuing CS alongside law studies is undoubtedly a valuable addition to your professional profile, but it demands dedication and effective time management. It is crucial to set clear goals and establish a timeline for completing the course and internship, and then work diligently towards achieving that. If you possess strong motivation to build a career in corporate law, becoming a qualified CS can significantly enhance your profile.
4. Could you please share briefly the process/stages an aspirant has to go through in pursuing CS, and what the difference is between a CS lawyer’s role in a company from that of a corporate lawyer?
It's important to note that CS is not just a 3 or 5-year course; it is divided into three levels, each comprising specific groups and subjects that need to be cleared. To pass each group within these levels, you must score a minimum of 40% in each subject individually and achieve an aggregate of 50% for that particular group. If you don't clear a subject or if you do clear all the subjects but the aggregate is not 50% at least, you are required to retake all the papers within that particular group. I still remember (the only failed attempt mentioned above) I had 40% or above in all 6 subjects divided into 2 groups but the individual score in both were 145/300 and 145/300.
One of the aspects that ICSI has really worked on and done good work on is that on structuring the syllabus for the exams, the curriculum is continually adapting to reflect industry trends/requirements. While specific subjects may evolve, corporate law remains a fundamental requirement for all aspiring CS professionals (Company law, FEMA, Stock Exchange laws).
The internship is one aspect of CS that is mandated for every student, currently, the period of internship is 21 months which a student may take during his level -2 or level -3 exams. Internships can be undertaken by the students either at Practicing Company Secretary firms or with Corporates. Completion of the internship for the specified period is a prerequisite before being enrolled as a Member of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI).
The distinction between the role of a CS in a company and that of an in-house lawyer lies in the nature of their responsibilities. A CS typically focuses on ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, dealing and advising on M&A transactions, reporting to statutory authorities etc., while an in-house lawyer provides legal counsel on a range of business transactions including contract negotiations, drafting, and litigation management.
From CS as a career perspective, there can be a broad classification of Companies: being listed and unlisted. According to statutory requirements, all listed entities and certain public and private companies, are mandated to have a Company Secretary.
In a listed entity, the role of a Company Secretary involves advising the Board of Directors and ensuring compliance with, Listing Regulations, Company Law, and RBI guidelines.
In an unlisted entity, the role of a Company Secretary differs slightly as they are not obligated to comply with SEBI-related guidelines or listing regulations. But the regulations around Company Law, and RBI regulations are still required to be complied with. It is generally observed that in unlisted entities, CS may also handle the legal functions which would include contract negotiations, compliance management, litigation management etc.,
5. As a Legal Manager at ZF Group, what does your regular day at work look like?
ZF Group is a global technology company that supplies systems for passenger cars, commercial vehicles and industrial technology. As a Legal Manager, my workday is typically dynamic and more importantly diverse in nature handling the CS as well as the legal part of the work. I did my CS internship with ZF and have been here since day 1 of my career of nearly 5 years now and my experience thus far has been fantastic with the Group.
A typical day involves engaging in drafting contractual agreements, negotiations of contracts with Vendors/Service Providers, Customers, and ensuring compliance with Company Law, RBI regulations and other statutory requirements. The workflow typically depends on the calendar quarter, certain quarters may require extensive work on the Secretarial side, e.g., after the end of the financial year, closure of audits, adoptions of accounts, filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs etc., and some quarters typically revolve a lot around legal work like negotiating contracts, Policy framing, litigation management etc., The one part of my work I like working on would be the corporate actions viz., advising on structures for transactions, formation of new Companies, buying/sale of an undertaking etc.,
Overall, my role as a Legal Manager at ZF Group offers me a dynamic and ever-evolving work environment. Embracing new challenges and learning from them has been key to improvement and growth within the organization.
6. What avenues are open to Company Secretaries with a legal background in India? How relevant or useful is an Indian CS qualification in foreign countries?
As a Company Secretary with a legal background in India, there are several career paths available to you, firstly, you can seek employment in a company as a Company Secretary or a legal advisor. Secondly, you can join a law firm and work as a corporate lawyer or provide services as a Company Secretary. Thirdly, you have the option to establish your practice as a Company Secretary or a corporate lawyer.
With regards to Foreign opportunities, it's important to note that the academic structure in India primarily focuses on Indian law, and additional qualifications may be necessary/mandatory to work in legal functions in a foreign country but I strongly believe the situation is evolving with time and would especially highlight the efforts of ICSI in these regards to mention one would be the MoU with Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), London for reciprocal membership for members of both the Institutes. Nevertheless, even today the experience and expertise gained by Indian CS professionals and their ability to maintain Corporate Governance is highly regarded in many countries, especially in developing countries.
With the corporate sector in India experiencing growth including that of the capital and venture capital markets, the statutory authorities are going to rely more on professionals to ensure Corporate Governance and the prospects for Indian CS professionals are only going to improve. With the MoUs and other agreements being in place by various institutes, the opportunity to work abroad will also see a steady increase in the coming years.