by Len Lear
Margy Klaw, a Mt. Airy attorney and author, will be speaking about her book, “Keeping it Civil: The Case of the Pre-Nup and the Porsche & Other True Accounts from the Files of a Family Lawyer” (Algonquin Books) at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, on Sunday, June 22, 2 p.m. Margy is one of those high-achievers who makes you wonder if she has found a way to squeeze more than 24 hours into each day.
Klaw, 56, who has been practicing family law for almost three decades, has one fascinating, compelling story after another in her book about the pain that family members can do to one another and the drama inherent in these cases. You might say it’s “Law and Order” without the bloodshed (usually). She quotes a frequently used courthouse saying that “in a criminal court we see bad people at their best, and in a family court we see good people at their worst.”
For example, there was the lesbian couple who wanted a legal opinion of their contract with a sperm donor — who just happened to be the brother of one of the women. Or the man who burned his wife’s wedding dress in a backyard bonfire the night she left him.
“I’ve represented numerous women who are deathly afraid of their abusive husbands,” Klaw has written, “but don’t have protection orders because they were threatened with further abuse if they ever took that step. Or sometimes the abuse took place in the past, making the spouse ineligible to obtain a protection order but fearful nonetheless…
“Lawyers tend to either love or hate family law,” Margy said during an earlier interview. “Very few are neutral about it. I fall squarely into the first camp. I love the intensity and the drama of it. I love helping people navigate through difficult times in their lives, and I love the cutting edge legal issues I’m dealing with, as society’s definition of family is changing so rapidly.
“But I have learned I need to maintain clear boundaries between myself and my clients. If I didn’t, I’d burn out. So I think the key to successfully practicing family law is to keep that balance where you’re emotionally engaged but still have some professional distance. You need to understand at a gut level that, for example, your clients’ kids are not your kids.”
Klaw, a New York City native who graduated from the Northeastern University School of Law
in Boston in 1984, is a founding partner of Berner Klaw & Watson, an all-female law firm located in Center City, dedicated exclusively to the practice of family law. (One of her daughters was so used to seeing Margy’s all-female cohorts that for several years as a child she believed that only women could be lawyers.)
Margaret has chaired both the Family Law Section and the Women’s Rights Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association and is currently an adjunct professor of family law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. She speaks frequently on family law topics and writes for The Huffington Post, DailyWorth.com, and her own blog.
“I made my way to law school after dropping out of conservatory (playing the violin) after two miserable years,” she said, “studying political theory and working as a waitress, a house painter, an office temp and a counselor at a battered women’s shelter.
“While at the shelter, I had the opportunity to go to court as an advocate for the residents. The first time I stood up and spoke in a courtroom, I was hooked. Going to law school was one of the best decisions of my life; I’ve been happily practicing family law for over 28 years now, and I’ve never looked back.”
Margy has written for numerous legal publications about family law and has won many awards for her legal work. A few years ago she began writing a blog, www.familylawunraveled.com, about some of her experiences and observations involving clients, judges, court proceedings and how she feels about the legal conflicts she sees every day. The blog became popular, which persuaded Margy to expand her thoughts into a book, “Keeping it Civil…,” which was published last fall.
It earned rave reviews, such as this one from Lisa Scottoline, a Main Line lawyer/author who writes a weekly column in the Inquirer and has written numerous crime fiction best-sellers: “Keeping it Civil” is “eye-opening and jaw-dropping…Shows how today’s cultural conflicts are played out in the lives of ordinary families in true-life cases…a must-read!”
How is the book doing, sales-wise? “It seems to be selling steadily, but I’m not planning on quitting my day job! I really enjoy hearing from people all over the country who’ve read it, and I’ve enjoyed meeting with book groups who have read it and hearing how it has affected people…”
Margy and her husband, architect Alan Metcalfe, whose firm, Metcalfe Architecture & Design, has done several local projects, including the tree canopy walk at Morris Arboretum, have lived in the same house in West Mt. Airy since 1992.
“We are huge Mt. Airy fans,” she said last week. “Our kids went to C.W. Henry School, which is three blocks from our house, and we’ve been very involved with the community. A lot of my clients come from Mt. Airy, and in my office we joke about ‘the Mt. Airy divorce,’ which is a shorthand for the mediated/DIY/joint custody/everyone-on-their-best-behavior type of case (which I love).”
Is Margy working on another book now? “Yes, just starting. It’s a novel. And it’s set in Mt. Airy. That’s all I can say for now!”
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