Keeping it Civil … book review

Keeping it Civil: The Case of the Pre-nup and Porsche & Other True Accounts From the Files of a Family Lawyer

Earlier this summer I read this book by Margaret Klaw despite the unwieldy title.  Klaw is a family law attorney in Philadelphia.  She works at Berner Klaw & Watson, a small boutique law firm where she was a founding partner.  The firm limits itself to family law matters and is comprised of all women.  In her promo trailer, she says she hopes to “pull back the curtain of the headlines and reveal the emotional complexities of family law issues through the real stories of the people [she represents].”

I knew nothing about Klaw before reading this book and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The first part of the title sounded quite lawyerly, almost like it was cribbed from a continuing education seminar, especially the ones where a judge is the presenter.  But the second part of the title made it sound like old TV episode of Matlock promising mystery, drama and intrigue.  My modest hope is that Keeping it Civil would contain some interesting “war stories” from the family law courthouse that I could relate it.  Maybe I would learn something too.

As it turns out, Klaw’s book succeeded on this level.  I did relate to it.  If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be a family law lawyer, this is probably book I’ve seen on the topic to date.  Just keep in mind Klaw no doubt “cherry picked” her cases.  Although I find that nearly all my cases have some interesting aspects, the vast majority are much more routine than the ones she features in the book.  And, at times, family law issues can be very dry, at least for me.  For instance, I don’t get excited delving into the technical details of a QDRO.

Keeping it Civil was very entertaining, informative and thought provoking at the same time.  Klaw split the chapters between interesting family law topics and a detailed account of a high conflict custody trial presented in installments.  The format was a little jarring because the “hot topic” chapters (and clients) were completely unrelated to the chapters about the trial.  However, this was unavoidable unless Klaw split the material into two distinct books (a a reasonable alternative in my view).  Klaw’s writing is clear and not stuffy like some lawyers tend to be.  I believe Keeping it Civil is accessible both to other lawyers and the ordinary reader.  The author has an opinion on each topic but I didn’t feel she was overbearing or preachy.  It probably helps that I agreed with her most of the time.  Your mileage by vary in this regard.  The book is 272 pages and it went quick for me.  If you are a legal junkie and getting a behind the scenes look at a family law trial sounds fascinating, Keeping it Civil might even be a page turner for you!

Buy Keeping it Civil at Amazon here.  It’s available currently on Kindle and hardback.


Ms. Klaw has a blog called “Family Law Unraveled” here.  Recently she only posts occasionally.