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UPSC Law Optional Preparation Strategy

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  • Published
    14th Sep, 2021

Since last few years there has been a rise in the popularity for Law optional among civil services aspirants in UPSC mains Exam. The factor behind this surge in choosing this optional is the good success rate in comparison to other optional subjects. The subject has a  good success rate of about 15 – 20% in the IAS exam. On an average, between 200 and 250 candidates take up the law optional in the UPSC mains exam. However there is preconceived notion among many students that subject is quite technical and full of terms and jargon and hence can’t be chosen as an optional by candidates hailing from nonlaw background. However this is absolutely wrong as anyone with a systematic plan and sincere effort could choose this optional and clear the UPSC exam. The strategy can be a bit different for the aspirants having law and non law background students. However, before going through the detailed strategy for paper 1 and paper 2 we must need to understand the syllabus of the subject.


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. The syllabus can be broken into following parts for the sake of study:

Paper 1:

Paper 1 of the Law optional has conceptual parts and less technical. This paper consists of three separate segment Constitutional Laws, Administrative Law and International Law. 

  • Constitutional Law
  • Administrative Law
  • International Law

Paper 2:

Law optional Paper-II ideals with hardcore laws and more technical. It consists of two segments as Paper I. They are:

  • Section A – Law of Torts and Law of Crimes
  • Section B – Mercantile Law, Law of Contracts, and Contemporary Legal Developments

For the syllabus of law for UPSC click here

Books and Resources:

Books for Law Optional Paper I

  • International Law- S. K Kapoor
  • Our Constitution – Subhash C. Kashyap
  • The Constitution of India (Bare Act) – PM Bakshi
  • An Introduction to Public International Law – S. K. Verma
  • Introduction to the Constitution of India – D.D Basu
  • Constitution of India- V. N Shukla
  • International Law – Malcolm N Shaw
  • Administrative Law – I.P. Massey

Books for Law Optional Paper II

  • Indian Penal Code- KD Gaur
  • Mercantile Law – R.K. Bangia
  • Jurisprudence – P.K. Tripathi and Dias
  • Criminal Law – P. S. Atchuthen Pillai.
  • Indian Penal Code-Ratanlal and Dhirajlal
  • Principles of Mercantile Law- Avtar Singh
  • Law of Tort – Autochthon Pillai
  • Indian Contract Act Specific Relief Act- Pollock & Mulla

Law optional advantages :

There are certain advantages associated with this optional that makes it one of the most preferred optional subject. The advantages can be listed as follows :

Overlap with General Studies

A significant degree of overlap has been found between Law optional and general studies papers. Almost all the four papers of general studies paper has an overlapping elements with Law optional. General studies paper 1 is having common areas such as Post Independence consolidation and reorganization within the country, Social Empowerment, Communalism, Regionalism and secularism with law paper. The GS 2nd paper has maximum overlapping with law paper. The section related to polity and governance has multiple topics that are synchronous with law paper. Land reforms in India, Government Budgeting, Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and issues relating to Intellectual Property Rights can be covered in GS paper 3 while studying law optional.

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.

Overlap with Essay Paper

Law optional has a  significant overlapping with essay paper too. Every year there are certain topics in essay that can be handled easily by law students.

Good Success Rate 

Law optional has success rate about 12-15% in comparison to other optional in UPSC exam. However, there was a time when this optional success rate has reached up to 24%.

Non-Technical in Nature:

The subject is quite easier as compared to other optional due to lacking in technical terms and jargon. Because of this the subject needs no prior background or knowledge of subject and hence it can be tackled easily by laymen too.

Short Syllabus :

The syllabus is relatively shorter and you can complete it within 2 or 3 months.

Strategy of Law Optional:

Strategy for Law Optional Paper 1:

Nature of Paper 1 is of static nature and consists of mostly concepts and theories. Also this paper has no technicalities involved. For the sake of study this paper can be divided into following:

  1. Constitutional Laws
  2. Administrative Law
  3. International Law

For constitutional law Reading the bare act is essential. Go through the previous year papers to identify potential areas and articles asked. One need to note down such articles and make notes regarding the same.  You are required to put emphasis on philosophy of the Constitution and its principles along with the Articles. Preamble and the related keywords has high weightage in the optional paper so it should be given due weightage. Prepare separate notes on the principles of Secularism, Socialism and Equality. Apart from this other important areas are Fundamental Rights, DPSPs, Emergency, Judiciary. Try to integrate the static portion with current events and issues to get maximum advantage.

Only few certain portions require extensive and detailed study for administrative law. The important areas that must be prepared are Principles of natural justice such as nemo judex causa sua, audialtrampartem, Delegatus non potestdelegare , Separation of powers, and post decisional hearing etc.

The International law is asked in section B of the paper. The most important topics are Philosophy of International law, sources of international law, validity of international law, recognition, extradition, statelessness, law of the seas and the air, humanitarian law. Topics like UN and its organs, human rights law, terrorism law should also be covered in general sense. Case laws form an important segment and inclusion of case laws in your answer make it more authentic and practical.

Strategy for Law Optional Paper 2:

Law optional Paper-II is more practical in nature as it includes hardcore laws and more technical terms. It consists of two segments as Paper I. They are:

  1. Section A – Law of Torts and Law of Crimes
  2. Section B – Mercantile Law, Law of Contracts, and Contemporary Legal Developments

Section A

Law of Torts:

The  topics having more weightage and importance are the philosophy behind law of torts and its development in India, Strict Liability, Absolute Liability, Vicarious Liability, Negligence, Nuisance, Defamation, Malicious Prosecution, Joint tort feasors, remedies. Due to rising cases related to consumer frauds Consumer Protection Act should be read in spirit.

Law Of Crimes :

For this the bare act is your holy grail. Theory of malice, General exceptions, Culpable homicide and murder, Joint liability, Abetment, Crimes related to property are the more important concepts to study. Topics like Plea Bargaining, PCA, SC-ST Act, Death penalty should be given a serious consideration.  The case laws and illustrations are highly significant in this paper; even if one can’t remember the name of cases, illustrations must definitely be highlighted in the answers.

Section B

Law of Contracts and Mercantile Law:

The most important segment under this is Indian Contract Act . Along with this Sections 1 to 75 of  Bare Act should be read primarily. Indian Partnership Act, Sale of Goods Act, Negotiable Instruments Act are the other three major acts covered here. Other crucial areas are Standard form of contracts, e-contracts.

Contemporary Legal Developments:

Intellectual property law, Cyber law, ADR mechanisms., PIL, RTI are the most preferred areas for this. While answering the questions asked in this section try to link it with latest developments particular to that area.

At last regular revision, making smart notes with micro details, practicing previous year question papers and mock test series to measure your performance are some of the few steps to enhance your score in this optional. The most important aspect is to integrate the static and dynamic areas together and using case laws while writing the answers makes your answer unique and exclusive.


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