Law and Behold

Let me apologize at the very outset for two things:

1. Twisting the original idiom, Lo and Behold, in a way that would put even Ogden Nash to shame (he’s turning in his grave as you read this), just to make the heading appealing.

2. Using a ‘z’ in place of an ‘s’ in apologize. I love Oxford commas, and detest American English and the American style of applying commas. But I cannot figure out how to change the US English settings on the computer I’m using. So imma be using American English, yo, just like Justin Bieber! But wait, isn’t he a Canadian?

So, this is about the law optional for UPSC. And I’m not a seasoned lawyer. I’m not, in fact, a lawyer. But still, I shall write this, since I guess I understand law somewhat. In fact, each one of us does. (I got decent marks, too – 251/500. So, you have to listen to my gratuitous advices at least once)

Law is not something alien. The basic crux has come from the way average people usually go about life – don’t take what’s not yours, be nice, don’t be violent and all that jazz. In fact, that’s what is mentioned in all religious books. And Hammurabi probably was the first dude who got it etched on stele. By the way, take this ‘average person’ thing very seriously; most laws assume that we are mango people.

The times of the Babylonian king were different. Now we have thick volumes of infinite kinds and overburdened book shelves on law (that is what I guess puts most people off). Blame it on mankind’s progress! What could possibly be written on one single stele in Hammurabi’s times, cannot be contained in a library with some finite capacity today. We keep seeing new laws. If there were no social media, there would be no laws needed to regulate it. Let’s go back to jungles like Rousseau wanted! Douglas Adams was right when he said in his most famous work, “Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

But the good news is that the UPSC doesn’t expect you to know everything about law. Not even as much as an LLB graduate does! Law is, in fact, the only other subject in addition to medicine, where honors-level rigor is not needed. But Law and Medicine are like “Fire and Ice” from Robert Frost’s celebrated eponymous poem. Even in their much diluted form, a paper can be set to fail the best of brains – so if the CSE means the world to you, this ‘Fire and Ice’ duo can annihilate it, unless you proceed with caution. But UPSC won’t set such a paper ever. I guess it respects you for opting either of these subjects. While you may be required to cram stuff for medicine, the same is not true for law. In fact, if today were the Day of Judgment, and I had to prove that I got 251 on my own, without cheating, and as a test would be required to name 15 celebrated legal cases, I’d be boiled in hot oils in hell. But then, too, I wouldn’t atone for my sins by cramming some. Not my thing! Even when cramming cases gives you good marks and even when I would have got more than 251, had I tried.

Legal stuff happens everywhere around us… you don’t have to read thick volumes… you don’t have to cram much… the papers are application-based. Yet, when it comes to UPSC optionals, people don’t even consider law. I have heard these many a time.

–          Hello, beta! I heard you are preparing for civil services. Do take sociology, ok. It’s a nice subject.

–          Munish, really? Law? Have you lost it?

–          You can try anthropology. It has the shortest syllabus.

–          Law is very tough, yar. Have you ever seen the number of books in a lawyer’s chamber?

–          It’s impossible to finish law syllabus, dude. It’s so diverse.

–          You say you loved Sanskrit. Why not Pali and Maithili?

–          History fetches good marks. History le lo.

–          Psychology le lo.

–          Pyaaz tamatar sastey me le lo. Rastey ka maal sastey me le lo.

I actually wanted to take subjects such as immunology, biochemistry, biotechnology, genetics, but none of them are in USPC list. I read too many books during MBA and had no strength left to revisit them. It wouldn’t even allow me to do something new – so I didn’t opt for management. People have scored even 250 in management this year; I saw the paper and it didn’t look easy, let alone scoring. And come to think of it – I was a gold medalist in MBA. So you know why I opted for law? No, you don’t. The truth is that its coaching is at five minutes’ distance from my place. Divine intervention, maybe! I would have even opted for medicine, if its coaching was available so close.

I was fortunate to have good teachers for law – Prof Rajat Sethi and Prof Monika Goel – during MBA. Then I went to a coaching called Nirvana IAS Academy, where you are made to appreciate law. It’s not a coaching in the strictest sense; they don’t see teaching as a business. Scores of lawyers go there every year to get schooled in law. I don’t think it’s possible for a non-lawyer to manage law optional without guidance. Even the lawyers stand to be benefitted by understanding how the optional is different from their LLB curriculum. I was fortunate to be in touch with Avi, who told me how humble dukkis could be used. I am also indebted to Tapasya, a friend and a doctor, for her guidance; she is an IAS from the 2012 batch and had law as an optional. In fact, Saloni, another doctor and rank 74 in CSE 2013, got 232/500 in law optional. She is, in fact, one of the best doctors I have ever encountered. There’s always something that one mayn’t know. I’m still searching for that in her case. Success of these medicos should give you a perspective on how manageable an optional it is.

I mostly agree with what Avi has mentioned in his posts about preparing for law optional. Read his posts here, here and here. But I have some comments to make.

1. I referred to class notes of Nirvana for law optional. Nothing beats them in terms of coverage. They are sourced from various books; that was a boon for a novice like me.

2. I found an LLM entrance preparation guide quite useful. I just had a Photostat of it (not sure of the publisher). But it was very well written and had good coverage, while maintaining brevity.

3. I always prefer doing three questions from constitutional law in paper 1 and two from international law. International law’s questions, though repetitive over years, don’t fetch good marks. Maybe it’s because it’s not very codified and there’s diversity in opinion on various issues. The constitution, anyhow, is something which makes me feel home.

4. Do you love the Indian constitution? I am not asking for respect – that is obligatory. I’m asking for Yash Chopra-kind romance with this solemn document. Well, every time I read it, I fall in love with it some more. The fine balance, the proper use of language, the kind of detailing – everything – makes me very proud. If you don’t have this feeling, maybe you don’t understand our constitution, our polity and societal challenges well. I developed this love after classes at Nirvana and after reading the class 11 NCERT – ‘Our Constitution at Work.’ This love reflects in my answers on constitution. They are never heavy on cases, but always delineate the philosophical part well. Maybe that’s why I got 134/250 in paper 1. I would have got more, had I read more on international law, than just the 50 pages of the LLM entrance guide. I studied other things, but I forgot. One reading, anyway, is not sufficient. And that’s exactly what I did for international law. But then my friends who studied everything properly also share my opinion.

5. For paper 2, try to give recent examples, if any. And don’t just cite cases and define things, and straightaway come to conclusion for application-based questions. Show the examiner that you are contemplating various aspects. But don’t go to the other extreme, like me, by not quoting a single case (that’s why I got a measly 117/250 in paper 2).

6. Try to be less robotic for paper 2’s application-based questions. There was this question on certain publications inviting public outrage. Now there’re no cases on such issues in books. Even if there are, I would be the last person to know, because I just read bare acts and gave a cursory look to Bangia for Contract and Torts. But I am not the one to leave questions in exams. Also, I am a proud Delhi Times reader. So I quoted the cases about ‘Ram Leela’ and ‘Aaja Nachle.’ I am sure the examiner would have appreciated how I remembered the exact details of at least these cases. So when you don’t know, think and write. You cannot know everything. You are not a dolphin!

7. Don’t jump to conclusions too fast. Suppose there’s a question on material spoilage in a truck, which was otherwise covered, but got watered down from bottom by waterlogged roads. In this question, don’t just say it’s an Act of God, and truck contractor will have no liability whatsoever. Tell the examiner that you can think of scenarios! Tell them that this may be an Act of God in Jaipur, but not necessarily in Mumbai or Mawsynram. I wrote no cases, but I did such scenario building in many questions (maybe that’s why I could manage 117). Of course, don’t go to the other extreme and start imagining things even when proven facts are given. (Example: In a question, it’s given that a child committed a murder, and you start musing about ossification test to gauge if s/he really is a child).

8. Try to understand philosophy in paper 2 as well. Try asking yourself where the law of torts ends and where criminal law begins. Suppose you give your car to your uncle and he destroys somebody’s property by negligent driving – who shall pay damages to the aggrieved party? Who would be liable if your uncle killed someone on the road? I’m sure that lawyers out there must be laughing over such inane questions, but a lesser mortal like me could make sense of the syllabus only by going through a series of such iterations.

9. I wish that paper 2 is always like the way it was in CSE 2013. Had it been more conventional, I would have flunked for sure. It’s a good thing that paper setters are marrying real-life scenarios with text-book details.

10. Follow what Avi says, in case you are preparing on your own. Feel free to keep bugging him. He’s not a lawyer either and he prepared on his own. He got 284/600 last year and 226/500 this year. I scored only 272 last year, but Avi was kind enough to give me valuable tips, and that, too, helped me improve on my score, in percentage terms.

Last but not the least, I owe it to Karam sir, from Nirvana, for his untiring efforts to make sure that I understood law. Had it not been for him, I would have taken some other subject and might not have scored so well. I attended every topic’s class at least thrice, and even then, one week before the exam, I told him that I knew nothing. He made me revise everything – every topic – in one hour each.

I thank Ravish, my friend, who I called at 3 am at the day of exam, because I couldn’t understand my own handwriting in the notes on constitution. And he came to my place, braving all non-spayed and non-neutered street dogs and bitches! It pays to have a Bollywood hero in your life. I totally was a damsel in distress that night.

I thank Saloni and Himani, for I got their summarized notes Xeroxed, and they always motivated me to study some more because they would always know everything and give me a complex. I thank Himanshu, my friend, who I called up a day before exam so that he could explain to me the difference between culpable homicide and murder. And I thank Arshdeep, my brother from another mother, for helping me with countless things.

This is why I was avoiding writing on law for so long. I can go on and on. You may type in your questions below and I shall try to answer them to the best of my abilities.

Also, this must be looking like an Oscar speech, but only I know how I managed law with just one holiday. Law syllabus will make you cry at least once, but I guess I’m saying that because I’m a crybaby.

The best part is that even when your forget everything and just remember the concepts, you get good marks in law. So, if your are like me, cry anyone no river before law optional’s exam. It’s natural. It’s the onion of optionals. But it will surely make your curry classy, if you bear with it for a while.

15 thoughts on “Law and Behold”

  1. dear sir, i wanted to ask you that which subject should be choosen for ias main because i am msc in biotech and it is not in upsc syllabus and sir plz tell me best books for pre which u studied sir plz suggest…thanx

    1. If classification does’t bother you much, you may consider botany or zoology, since you will do better in biotech-related aspects of these subjects. Rachit Raj, rank 3, and Nidhi Tewari, rank 97, opted for zoology, even though they graduated in biotech and biochem respectively; and they got great marks. Last year, too, rank 3 had performed very well in botany optional. But be ready to cram a lot, practise a lot of diagrams and learn detailed cycles. If that doesn’t excite you, you may consider law. I am very good at classification, but still I didn’t opt for botany/zoology, because of the extensive course.

  2. This is the most candid submission,may be, i’ve come across by successful guys. All this tells to me is to look inside and capitalise on what I have instead of going too much serious about innumerable luring pieces of advice.(i always find myself on wrong foot after reading them. Ur words come as solace.:p).

    Thanks for being writing that way!

  3. Dear Munish,

    Do you have any of your friends who could guide me on Philosophy optional?

    Thanks & regards,

  4. Dear Munish,

    I am a Nautical science graduate (Merchant Navy). None of the optionals goes wid my previous acadmics. And also i have only one attempt to give.
    Kindly advice would i be able to pull off Law as optional … Hw much time (per day n hw many months) is reqd to finish law syllabus.
    Your blog is very encouraging for aspirants lk me … But pls put some light on …. U had to take every class 3 times to understand!!!

  5. Dear Munish,

    I am a Nautical science pass out and none of the optionals in UPSC goes with my previous academics. Also I have only one attempt to give …
    Your blog is very encouraging for aspirants lk me.
    Kindly advise, whether I would be able to pull off Law … Also pls advice how much time (hrs per day and month) required to complete syllabus of Law …

    Pls put some light on ” you had to attend each topic class 3 times” … Is it so tough!!!

  6. Hello Munish sir
    First of all heartiest congratulation on your success. Today i went Nirvana academy for seminar i loved d way sir told about classes to be conducted der. But i am bit confused about choosing my optional subject as i am a civil engineering graduate i wanted to prepare it but after listening to sir and about the scaling issue am bit confused. i refered to pat 3yrs qstn paper it is not cake walk but i have 1.5 yrs to go. please guide me about problem you faced when studying Law as your subjects and summarizing it in the end?

  7. hi sir
    i was wondering if by any stroke of luck you figured out that llm guide book s author or publication?
    was it universal?

  8. Hi Munish,

    I too, like you, am an MBA with a full-time job in Gurgaon and aficionado of Law (I guess that’s where the similarity ends)! I plan to take up Law as an optional and from what I’ve read from your and Avi’s blog I will need some coaching for this.

    So, please help me figure out (or guide me to somebody else who can) a suitable coaching option in Gurgaon (google hasn’t helped me much and I guess I am not lucky to have a desirable institute 5 minutes from my house…so….)..the constraints of logistics have been working over time to deny me a valid shot at studying LAW as optional…please HELP!!!!

  9. Sir, very motivating words .
    I wanted to know if the weekend batches of Nirvana are at par with the regular batches there .
    I am very confused regarding the coaching institute for law .
    I ll give the civils next year .
    Thanks !
    waiting fr ur reply .

  10. Great article and I learn that you love Polity and Indian constitution a lot. But polity has been a bete noire for me maybe because I don’t know how to go about learning the subject , maybe because I’m trying to cram in everything I learn. Can you please suggest me on how to read the subject. Everyone tells what to read but not many tell how to read , from where to start et al.

  11. Sir
    Its really nyc to hear such insightful words.
    I have taken law n also attended ambition coaching last yr n appeared in mains n scored exceptionally low in law just 150 in toto.
    Not able 2 understand what to do? Again appearing this yr with law optional (perhaps 4 d last tym with law though i m a law graduate in 2006 frm bhu)
    Philophical approach, case law approach or which approach? Whose notes to b followed?
    Frm where to do Constitution? Whether dukkis wud b sufficient for constitution, contract n tort or v.n shukla n books have to b necessarily followed (read long back in 2004)?
    In expectation of ur valuable words n guidance……

  12. Sir very well said law is like onion.. It will make cry at least ones..

    Well my question
    1) well does nirvana gives any material for law optional??
    2) where can I get CASE SUMMARY AND JIST OF IMPORTANT CASE LAWS IN EVERY SUBJECT (some Delhi university case law summary list).. Sir can you plz say me where these summary cases are available in Delhi..

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