Strategy for Law Optional for UPSC

Law is an optional that is fast gaining popularity among UPSC aspirants. The subject enjoys a good success rate of 15 – 20% in the IAS exam. Considered a technical subject and one that only law graduates or postgraduates take up, it is not off limits to non-law students either. With a systematic plan and sincere effort, anyone can take up this optional and clear the UPSC exam. In this article, you can read all about the law optional – strategy for success, toppers list, syllabus details and books to read from.

How many take Law optional?

On an average, between 200 and 250 candidates take up the law optional in the IAS mains exam. Check out the table given below, it gives the number of people who appeared and cleared with the law optional, and also the subject’s success rate in the civil services examination.

Law optional success rate

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates cleared Success rate (%)
2015 245 41 16.7
2014 235 40 17
2013 144 35 24.3
2012 246 42 17.1
2011 226 18 8
2010 351 28 8

Law optional toppers

Name Year Rank
Saumya Sharma 2017 9
Neha Jain 2017 14
Tapasya Parihar 2017 23
Preetesh Raman Singh 2017 205
Jayantika Singh 2017 286
Sakshi Sawhney 2013 6
S Divyadharshini 2010 1

Law optional pros and cons

As with all optional subjects, the law optional subject also has its share of pros and cons for the IAS mains exam. While its success rate in the past few years may be a draw for students, the specialised nature of the subject may keep out many. In this section, we give you a list of benefits and drawbacks associated with the law optional.

Law optional advantages

  • Overlap with General Studies

Law has a significant overlap with the general studies papers. First, let us look at the overlap with the GS I paper in the IAS prelims exam.

In the prelims exam, topics such as Indian polity and governance, political system, Panchayati Raj, public policy, etc. would be easy for law students to handle. The next table shows the number of questions being asked from these topics in the prelims:

Year No. of questions
2017 22
2016 6
2015 12
2014 11
2013 18

As you can see, there are a sizable number of questions asked from these topics every year and the study of law will help students perform well in the prelims.

Coming to the mains exam, all the general studies papers have their share of topics from law in common.

General Studies I

  • Post Independence consolidation and reorganization within the country
  • Social Empowerment, Communalism, Regionalism and secularism.

General Studies II

  • Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.
  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
  • Separation of powers between various organs disputes redressal mechanisms and institutions.
  • Comparison of the Indian constitutional scheme with that of other countries.
  • Parliament and State Legislatures structure, functioning, the conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.
  • Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
  • Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising from their design and implementation.
  • Development processes and the development industry- the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
  • Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
  • Role of civil services in a democracy.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora – their structure, mandate.

General Studies III

  • Land reforms in India.
  • Government Budgeting.
  • Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and issues relating to Intellectual Property Rights.
  • Investment Models.

General Studies IV

  • Public/Civil services values and Ethics in Public administration
  • Probity in Governance

As you can see, there is a good overlap of law and the GS papers.

  • Overlap with Essay Paper

Every year, in the essay paper, there are topics that has some linkage to law topics. Apart from that, in most topics, giving the legal point of view can add to your score.

Some topics that are linked to the law optional syllabus:

  1. Justice must reach the poor. (2005)
  2. Water disputes between States in federal India. (2016)
  3. Need for transparency in public administration. (1996)
  4. Judicial activism and Indian democracy. (2004)
  5. Economic growth without distributive justice is bound to breed violence. (1993)
  6. Reservation, politics and empowerment. (1999)
  7. Is sting operation an invasion on privacy? (2014)
  8. Women’s reservation bill would usher in empowerment for women in India. (2006)
  9. Restructuring of UNO reflect present realities. (1996)
  • Law has enjoyed a good success rate in the IAS exam. In fact, in 2013, out of optional subjects that had 100 or more takers, the most number of successful candidates had selected law as their optional (about 24%).
  • The subject is not as technical as the core sciences subjects. Anyone can actually opt for this optional provided he/she has an interest in it. You don’t have to be a law graduate, although that makes it easier. A good textbook and a genuine interest in studying law can help you understand the nuances and concepts well enough.
  • The syllabus is relatively shorter and you can complete it within 2 or 3 months.

Law optional disadvantages

  • Law is not as scoring as the science optionals, although with sincere effort, you can score up to 150 easily.
  • Although not impossible to crack, non-law graduates might find the subject a little alien, especially paper II.
  • There are not many good test series available for law unlike some of the other more popular optionals.

Law optional UPSC syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for law for the UPSC mains exam.

There are two optional papers in the UPSC exam pattern. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

Download the Law syllabus PDF.

Law optional strategy

General tips for Law optional:

  1. You must understand topics and concepts in law rather than simply learn case names by heart. Only case names will not help you in getting good marks unless you demonstrate a deep knowledge of the underlying principles of law.
  2. Enrolling for a test series will help immensely in answer writing. It will also help you assess your own strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Apart from books, you must use the internet as a source of study, especially for updates regarding important cases linked to the syllabus.
  4. Use legal terminology in your answers. In the GS papers, even for topics related to law, you should write answers like a generalist. But for the optional papers, you must write like a specialist.
  5. Always give examples of recent cases in your answers.

Tips for answer writing in Law optional:

While writing answers in law, you can use the following approach:

  1. Introduction: Always start with a proper introduction or definition depending on the marks allocated to the question.
  2. Law: Here, you talk about the particular provision of the statute.
  3. Analysis: This is the body of the answer. You talk about the arguments of the case here.
  4. Case Laws: In this section, you have to substantiate your answer with case laws.
  5. Examples: This will add value to your answers. In case you cannot remember case laws, you can definitely use examples.
  6. Conclusion: In the concluding part of your answer, you can talk about the latest developments or current affairs related to the question.
  7. In the answers, use legal jargons and Latin maxims.

Before starting a detail-wise strategy of both papers, let us take a look at the topic-wise analysis of both the papers.

Paper I topic-wise analysis of questions

Year Marks for Constitutional & Administrative Law Marks for International Law
2017 125 125
2016 125 125
2015 125 125
2014 125 125
2013 125 125

Paper II topic-wise analysis of questions

Year Marks for Law of Crimes Marks for Law of Torts Marks for Law of Contract and Mercantile Laws Marks for Contemporary Legal Developments
2017 70 35 75 70
2016 90 20 80 60
2015 80 30 80 60
2014 85 20 60 85
2013 100 10 60 80

Law Paper I Strategy

Constitutional Law – You should refer to ‘Indian Constitutional Law’ by MP Jain after of course, reading the bare acts. This is especially good for fundamental rights. Go through the syllabus and pick topics from this book to read. Here, case laws and landmark judgements are very important. The Supreme Court itself has interpreted most of the articles in detail. These are important to substantiate your answers with. It is advisable to maintain a separate notebook or file for case laws alone topicwise. This will also serve for good revision.
Example questions:
Q. Critically evaluate the changing dimensions of the concept of ‘State’ under Article 12 of the Constitution of India. (10 marks, 2018)
Q. Discuss the importance of ‘Right to life and personal property’ with reference to recent case laws. (10 marks, 2017)

Administrative Law – ‘Administrative Law’ by IP Massey is the go-to book for this section. In this section, it is not necessary to remember all the cases. Only a few important ones for topics like Separation of Power, Principles of Natural Justice, etc. are needed. Off late, the UPSC has started asking compulsory questions from this section. So, do not leave this topic.
Example questions:
Q. “Natural justice is not a made to order formula which has to be fitted to all situations with an iron-bound uniformity.” Comment. Refer to case laws. (10 marks, 2018)
Q. Evaluate the constitutional provisions relating to administrative relation between the Union and the State with special emphasis on inter-governmental delegation of administrative power. (20 marks, 2017)

International Law – For this section, the best books are ‘International Law’ by Malcolm Shaw and ‘International Law’ by SK Kapoor.

  1. Nature and definition of international law – refer to SK Kapoor for this part.
  2. Relationship between international law and municipal law – refer to SK Kapoor for this part.
    In the first two subsections, focus on definitions, evolution and sources of various laws, theories of relationship between international and municipal law.
  3. State recognition and state succession – refer to SK Kapoor. A few portions of State Succession can be read from ‘Starke’s International Law’ by JG Starke.
  4. Law of the Sea – this section can also be read from Starke’s book.
  5. Individuals – for this section, refer to Starke and SK Kapoor (for the part on human rights).
  6. Territorial jurisdiction of States, extradition and asylum – this section can also be read from Starke’s book.
  7. Treaties – this section can be read from SK Kapoor.
  8. United Nations – this section can be read from SK Kapoor. You can also refer to the official website of the UN.
  9. The last few topics in this section such as international terrorism and new international economic order and monetary law, you should refer to the internet for the latest updated information.

Example questions:
Q. It is generally viewed that “What the UN did in the 20th century for maintenance of world peace and security, the WTO is going to play the same role on economic and trade relations in the 21st century.” Discuss the above statement in view of the changing notion of political sovereignty to economic sovereignty of states. (15 marks, 2018)
Q. The Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the WTO is playing an important role in maintaining the stability of the global economy. Comment. (15 marks, 2017)

Law Paper II Strategy

Law of Crimes – this is a very expansive topic. You must refer to the Indian Penal Code for this. For interpretation, you can refer to ‘Textbook on IPC’ by KD Gaur. Case laws are very important in this section. Focus on topics like offences against human body, general exceptions and offences against property. You should read the bare act for the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The same is the case for the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.

Example questions:

  1. In all robbery, there is either theft or extortion. Explain. (10 marks, 2017)
  2. “Right of private defence to the extent of causing death of an assailant cannot be based on the surmises and speculation. The accused must be under a bonafide fear of death or grievous hurt would otherwise be the consequence of the assault, if he does not defend. To determine the existence of apprehension is always a question of fact.” Explain the above proposition in the light of existing legal provisions and judicial decisions. (10  marks, 2018)

Law of Torts – ‘Law of Torts’ by RK Bangia is the best source for this section. Here, case laws are essential. Have a list of at least a couple of cases for each important topic.

Example questions:

  1. “Law of torts is said to be a development of the maxim ‘Ubi jus ibi remedium’.” Discuss the statement. (10 marks, 2017)
  2. “A master is liable for all acts of his servant done during the course of employment.” Explain it in general and from Indian perspective in particular. (15 marks, 2018)

Law of Contracts – ‘Law of Contract & Specific Relief’ by Avtar Singh is an excellent source for this topic.

Example questions:

  1. “Minority can only be claimed as a shield but not as a sword.” Explain the statement and mention the situations when a minor is liable under the law of contract. (10 marks, 2017)
    Q. In an action to avoid a contract on the ground of undue influence, the plaintiff has to prove two points. Explain those points and different kinds of relations leading to presumption of undue influence which vitiates free consent. (10 marks, 2018)

Mercantile Law – For this section, do all the bare acts and past year questions. Even though it may seem a little lengthy, do this part as every year, questions are asked from here.

Example questions:

  1. “Right to stoppage of goods in transit starts when right to lien ends.” Discuss.
    Q. If an officer with an intelligence agency of the govt. receives a cheque for consideration on the basis of an agreement to pass on intelligence inputs, can such cheque be enforceable under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act 1881? Discuss the scope of the legally enforceable liability of the drawer under Sections 138 and 139 of the Act. (20 marks, 2018)

Contemporary Legal Developments – Do not skip this section as the UPSC is asking compulsory questions from here.

  1. Public Interest Litigation – you can refer to ‘Indian Constitutional Law’ by MP Jain.
  2. Intellectual property rights – for this, read the bare act, particularly, the provisions on trademark, copyright and patent.
  3. Information Technology Law including Cyber Laws – go through the bare act Information Technology Act, 2000.
  4. Competition Law – again, go through the bare act of The Competition Act, 2002.
  5. Alternate Dispute Resolution – Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 – the bare act for the broad features of the act is sufficient.
  6. Major statutes concerning environmental law – many laws come under this topic. You only need to go through the broad features of the bare acts.
  7. Right to Information Act – here, go through the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
  8. Trial by media – current affairs sources, newspapers, internet. You can read the 200th report of the Law Commission of India selectively.

Example questions:

  1. Discuss the constitution, jurisdiction, powers and authority of National Green Tribunal. How far has it been successful in achieving its objectives? Explain with the help of recent cases. (20 marks, 2017)
  2. ‘Sustainable development’ has been accepted as a balancing concept between ecology and development. Discuss the recognition and application of this principle under the laws relating to environmental protection in India. (15 marks, 2018)

Books for Law optional UPSC

  • Indian Constitutional Law by MP Jain
  • Administrative Law by IP Massey
  • International Law by Malcolm Shaw
  • International Law by SK Kapoor
  • Starke’s International Law by JG Starke
  • Textbook on IPC by KD Gaur
  • Law of Torts by RK Bangia
  • Law of Contract & Specific Relief by Avtar Singh
  • The Constitution of India (Bare Act) by PM Bakshi
  • Jurisprudence (Legal Theory) by B.N. Mani Tripathi

Bare Acts:

  • Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881
  • Indian Partnership Act, 1932
  • Sale of Goods Act 1930
  • The Indian Contract Act 1872
  • Right to Information Act, 2005
  • The Indian Forest Act, 1927
  • Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  • Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
  • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980
  • The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
  • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
  • Information Technology Act, 2000
  • The Competition Act, 2002
  • Patents Act, 1970
  • Trade Mark Act, 1999
  • Copyright Act, 1957
  • Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996
  • Consumer Protection Act, 1986
  • Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955
  • Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988
  • Constitution of India, 1950 (PM Bakshi)

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