My Tryst with the Civil Services Exam-II: Law as an Optional

Law, a hitherto less popular optional, has been steadily gaining new converts in the last couple of years. Some of it has to do with the perception that certain popular optional subjects get ‘butchered’ in the Mains. Some of it probably comes from the realisation that in the post 2013 pattern, GS Papers II and III cover a lot of the same ground that the Law syllabus does.

While I would unequivocally recommend Law to all law graduates, non-lawyers may consider the fact that Law has a substantially wider syllabus than many other optionals. Parts of it, especially Paper II, have a very technical feel to them-with a lot of linguistic hair-splitting. There is hardly any good coaching available and memorising case law and section numbers may not be to everybody’s liking. What goes in Law’s favour is that at its root, it is nothing but common sense. No legal concept is so dense that it cannot be understood from the standard text books. It is also one of the two optionals where the difficulty level is not of Honours level. The subjects that most students in Law School dread form no part of the UPSC syllabus. Little wonder then that many non-lawyers have aced the CSE with Law over these two years.

Law Paper I comprises of Constitutional Law and International Law. Law Paper II has the Law of Torts, the Law of Contracts, the Law of Crimes and Contemporary Legal Developments.

LAW PAPER I (Marks: 148/250)

Law Paper I along with GS Paper I is my personal favourite among the many that UPSC makes us write. This paper consists of two separate portions-Constitutional Law and International Law. You need to attempt two each from both the portions along with one more from either of the two.

There is no substitute to reading the Constitution. Do not be daunted by the 400 odd Articles there. You only need to know about a hundred of them. Together with the bare text, you need an excellent commentary. For UPSC purposes, MP Jain or VN Shukla are the best. I would recommend VN Shukla for the lack of jargon though MP Jain is more exhaustive. Remember to read the syllabus well and restrict your preparation to that part. Indiscriminately trying to mug up the entire Constitution is going to be an exercise in futility. Always proceed topic wise. For eg-if you are doing the part on Judiciary, make sure to correlate what you are reading about the SC with parallel provisions regarding the High Court even though there may be a hundred other articles in between. Case Law is an absolute must. You only need to know the landmark judgments though. If you are a law graduate, you probably already know the important case laws for each part. If you are not, Bakshi’s Bare Text of the Constitution includes important case laws along with the Articles. As a rule of the thumb, High Court judgments may be ignored, unless they lay out a whole new paradigm-like Narsu Appa Mali or the Naz Foundation case.

The last five topics of the Constitutional Law portion deal with Administrative Law. This may be done from IP Massey’s book. Read it as you would a story and remember to jot down a couple of important case laws here and there. Massey deals with these rather extensively but remember that the UPSC at best would only require a broad based understanding of the same. So do not stress about the numerous case laws, examples, exceptions and so on. The side heading along with a couple of lines should do for most.

Try and be updated regarding latest case law from Gautam Bhatia’s excellent is rather dense but very useful for those interested in the subject.

The International Law syllabus is perhaps the easiest part of the Law portion for a non-lawyer. Starke or Malcolm Shaw are the recommended textbooks if you are doing this subject for the first time. However, if you already have a base in this, SK Kapoor on International Law should do for UPSC purposes. It is written like a guide, parts of it are outdated and the grammar is nothing much to write home about, but it is concise and heavily features the Indian angle-both major plus points for the CSE. Case Law is a must but you need not try and memorise every tiny detail-the name and 3-4 major features should do just fine. This is also true of most Treaties. Do remember that Kapoor does not explain the topics very well, so you may need to fall back on Starke/Shaw if your concepts are not clear. For international bodies and environment, the best source is the Internet as it is a very dynamic topic.

LAW PAPER II (Marks: 116/250)

This paper is hardcore law and your concepts need to be absolutely clear. I used the following books:

  • Indian Penal Code: KD Gaur
  • Contracts: Avtar Singh
  • Torts: Bangia

These texts need to be supplemented by the Bare Acts (except Torts of course). I used to read the section first and try and represent it in a linear manner so as to bring out its key elements. Only then did I read the commentary on it along with the case law. It is quite possible to go offtrack here considering the large number of sections. Therefore, do read your syllabus carefully.

Memorising the names of leading cases is a given, but you also need to know the facts of many others, especially in IPC. This is because many of the questions in the UPSC papers directly reference the facts of some case or the other. So it makes sense to invest in another book for the IPC, maybe a Pillai, only so that you can read through the facts of all the cases there that are not mentioned in KD Gaur.

Try and make extensive notes in the Contracts and IPC portions. The commentaries are very long and you will have a hard time during revision if you do not have succinct notes. You can, of course, memorise the entire Contracts Act, but even if you don’t, do try and do so for atleast the first 75 sections. These are the broad principles and you can quote them even in questions that do not directly deal with them. Remembering the IPC sections is a lot easier (or was for me). Do not leave out the sections that deal with aggravated offences-like theft by house breaking, for eg-many a times, the questions refer to these particular sections.

You may invest in DU Law Dukkis for the remaining topics like Sale of Goods, Partnership Act, NI Act and Arbitration and Conciliation Act. Do not ignore these as a couple of questions are sure to come from this part. Another excellent source for revising this portion is the AIBE material. For the other Acts mentioned, you will have to rely on the bare text. Knowing the broad features should do.

Contemporary Legal Developments may be done from the Internet. Cross reference it with the Bare Acts where you can. Again, this portion cannot be ignored as it supplies a question or two almost every year. More than the sections here, the broad theory is important, especially for, say, Competition Law. This would include problems with the current regime, changes possible or maybe even expounding on its development over the years.

For both the Law papers, it would be a very fruitful exercise to practise previous years’ papers. Try and solve as many of them as you can. The theory of law does not change and there is only so much variation you can have in your papers. Solving the last ten years papers alone should help you master atleast a third of your syllabus.

In addition, you may look up some of the Law Commission’s important reports (like the 156th, 200th) as well as the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution. These may be quoted in your 20 markers, but are not a must.

In my next post, I will try and put up some of my GS answers as best as I remember them.


32 thoughts on “My Tryst with the Civil Services Exam-II: Law as an Optional

  1. Sir, how much time would preparation of law optional take if started from point zero?
    Also, is coaching for this optional essential or will self-study suffice?
    Law has always had high success rate in UPSC exams but overall the number of candidates clearing the exam have been around 25 only, and majority of them are from the top law colleges(Bangalore, Hyderabad) of India. Is it because of the teaching level of these institutions or just because not many Llb graduates apply for the exam with this optional?

  2. Sir, Congrats for ur success!

    Sir, I am a novice in law and have just taken admission into DU Law faculty. I am preparing for CSE 2016. May I know as to how u got ur answers evaluated for optional? Is their any good quality test series available for Law optional in Delhi?

    1. Not that I know of Gurpreet. Probably your teachers can help? Most of the evaluators are lecturers from University Law departments. I did not get my answers evaluated but did concentrate on writing as succinctly as possible.

      1. One more quest sir. I have Pillai for ipc, is it sufficient or do i need to buy kd gaur also? I compared kd gaur and pillai and found that topics in both are same. Can u throw some light on both books, is Gaur superior to Pillai w.r.t to cse?

  3. Hi Abdaal,

    I am a Law Graduate (3 Year Course). I am daunted with the vastness of the syllabus as I passed out from the Mumbai University , I haven’t studied any of the subjects in depth and I only have a very general idea.

    I am currently contemplating my decision and I am torn between Sociology and Law.

    Can you put up a detailed strategy? Probably a time table that you adopted?

    Thank you.

    1. There is absolutely no reason to be daunted by the vastness of the syllabus. UPSC only expects a broad knowledge of the Law. There are hardly any philosophical or theory based questions. If you can memorise your case laws and section numbers well, Law should work for you.

      I do not have a detailed strategy as such. I prepared for it as I would for any exam. If you devote 4 hours daily to Law, it shouldn’t take you more than three months.

      1. Thank you for your prompt response Abdaal. Means a lot! Well, the only glitch is that I passed or rather topped my Law Examinations by using ‘Dukkis’ mostly and I hope that doesn’t work to my detriment. I will begin my preparation for the Law Optional without wasting any more time.

        Thank you for enlightening me. I happened to read your post on as well.

        Congratulations on your achievement.


  4. Hi Abdaal,

    Congratulation on your achievement. I was looking at books required to master the History optional around the web and i find quite a few, varying ones. With your love for the subject and the expertise you have, can you please give me a list of books that would best help me cover the syllabus for the history optional. Thanks.

  5. Congrats sir,
    I am student of 3rd year in RGNIL .I am completely confused in choosing the career. Should I opt for judiciary or upsc?
    Guide me.

  6. Hello Sir…I am a non law student doing integrated MA in development studies at IIT Madras. My course covers subjects such as Indian Constitution: Text and Practice and Introduction to International Law. Can I opt Law as an optional subject for CSE?

  7. Hi
    I am not from law background,but for civils I would like to take law as an optional.kindly guide me on how to start my prep from scratch.

  8. Hello sir, I am in a fix regarding the optional I ought to opt for. I am a law grad from DU . But the trouble is that it’s been a couple of years since I left my law school. And I now have access to a good geography teacher. But as regards law I don’t have anyone to discuss any important topic with. .Hence the dilemma. I shall be obliged if you be kind enough to guide me.

  9. 2nd Video of The Lawster please do watch the video!!!!!!!!
    Detail analysis of the syllabus of Constitution of India/ Polity

    See More

    Law Optional paper 1- Detail analysis of the syllabus (Constitution)

  10. hello sir.. i have done mca.. and want to choose law as aoptional subject .. is it a good decision as i need to prepare it from basic

  11. Sir, is there any difference between the language employed and no. Of cases cite by us in our law school exam and that of in upsc mains (law optional)? If yes, I kindly request u to give glimpses of it.

  12. What are your views on having a detailed reading of landmark-historical as well as recent-cases?
    Also does reading constitutional assembly debates pay back in any manner in any of the papers?
    Can you please suggest any more websites,other than those already mentioned,which might be of help?
    Ratanlal and dhirajlal for torts or Bangia…which one is a bttr option?

  13. Thank you for sharing your experience & for insight into CSE with law as optional. I am a law graduate & planning to appear for CSE 2017-18. I have decided to join Vajiram & Ravi for GS, CSAT, etc. But as they don’t offer law, can you please suggest some other coaching.
    Thank you

  14. sir please give a some tips for writing answers in law paper ,
    whether for each answers need to add cases , writing provisions and problems systematically and other strategies

  15. Hi Abdaal! Really appreciate your detailed analysis. Would love to read your answers for Law (Paper 1 and Paper 2). This would help many law aspirants like me to get a hang of the structure.

    Thanks again for writing!

  16. Hello sir, I am a Hindi medium student,and I want to opt law as mains subject regarding IAS exam.sir plz provide book list of Hindi authors for law subject.there r many good books in English in comparison to Hindi medium.sir plz guide me.

  17. Hi, Abdaal. I have taken Law as an optional for obvious reason that i am LL.M. I want to ask from you that, is mentioning of case laws are necessary other than where it is essential, like in llb and llm you have to mention case laws in every paragraph where we are trying to explain the concept. I think it is very hard to remember case laws when you have to give exam in a single day which is covering 6 different topics. I really want to know what strategy you followed and your suggestions as you have faced it. Thank You.

  18. Thank you for this write up. Has helped me understand the preparation better and prioritize topics accordingly. I was looking for some clarity regarding the management of the mammoth syllabus and I found it here. Wishing you well. Thank you again.

  19. Hello Sir,
    I have completed my syllabus of Law Optional and right now preparing for prelims. I plan to join a test series for Law after the prelims. I would be thankful if you could recommend any test series or a strategy to write good answers.

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