This article is written by Avi Prasad, Rank 13, UPSC CSE 2013
I appeared with Law as an optional in both my attempts (Rank 171, CSE 2012 and Rank 13, CSE 2013) and owe my selection to good marks in Law papers. Further, in prelims a good number of questions are based on polity and constitution, which most law students find easy. As most of the social and economic issues are addressed through the legislative mechanism, students of law optional are at an advantage in extracting the intention, mechanism and other relevant information from the dreary language of an Act/proposed Bill.
Also important issues of governance like RTI, exercise of discretion, citizen-official interface, relationship between organs of state etc. trace their roots to administrative and constitutional law. These are all important parts of Mains syllabus for GS.
Yet, Law has never been a very popular optional – the reason being that non-law background students have been apprehensive to opt for it. While such apprehensions are not baseless, yet they are certainly overrated if they are the sole reason for not choosing this optional. Law as an optional offers equal opportunity to lawyer and non-lawyer, though the person with a background in subject will have relative ease in preparing with it, but then that’s true for any subject being offered by UPSC.
The reason for asserting that it’s an equal opportunity optional is due to the contents of the syllabus. Law as a discipline is a maze of substantive laws and procedural laws. While the expertise over the former can be gained through books and research, the latter is usually the domain of practitioner and expertise is acquired in it through years of exposure. Then again there are substantive laws which are extremely complex or deal with particular subject making their mastery difficult, for instance FEMA or Taxation Laws. UPSC has avoided such elements of law in the syllabus making it accessible to those with no previous exposure to law through formal education channel.
The other favourable thing to be said about this optional is that it has a limited syllabus, which can be covered in a relatively short time, given that one has selected proper sources of study. Further, the questions are predictable to an extent and repetition of past years’ questions is quite common. Most of the answers are to be given according to the settled position of the Law, except certain areas where the law is evolving (for instance Patent or competition law) or the legal issue stand unresolved ( or instance death penalty etc.), thereby reducing the element of surprise which has become a UPSC favourite for most optional subjects.
Now, the disadvantages. First, studying Law requires reading some quality books and a good command over language. The terminology used in Law will test the vocabulary, the subject matter may appear dull and the language used may appear archaic. This is a subject which cannot be mastered with the help of coaching institute material. Also, one has to realize on the onset that while Law is a very safe optional to get average to above average marks, it is not a very high scoring subject like literature and public administration (till couple of years ago!). It is a subject where answers are highly specific and have to be given within the confines of the statutory law. Thus if one is not familiar with a question, there are hardly any marks to be earned through so-called attempt, lowering down the top scores of the subject compared to others.