Three Things I Learned About The French Lifestyle That Changed How I Practice Law

Three Things I Learned About The French Lifestyle That Changed How I Practice LawThis week we welcome back guest writer Hillary Vaillancourt to talk about what she learned from the French lifestyle and how this helped her as an attorney,

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the French lifestyle. My childhood bedroom had an Eiffel Tower clock. My traditional birthday cake was chocolate mousse. I took a French language class as soon as my school offered one. I have nearly a dozen French cookbooks (and counting), but what has really inspired me is the French philosophy on work life balance.

I first started to really delve into the French lifestyle when I read French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. The whole book is an ode to the French way of life. Essentially, the book explores how French women are able to eat decadent foods like buttery croissants, creamy custards, and cheesy sauces without seemingly gaining any weight whatsoever. Take a walk around Paris, and you’ll notice most locals are svelte and chic.

Mireille Guiliano, a native Frenchwoman, explains that the French allow themselves to indulge in their favorite foods, even dessert, without guilt, without reservation. To balance out the indulgence, they simply eat a little cleaner the next day. The key is, they indulge without guilt, but more importantly, they savor what they indulge in. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Why deny ourselves a crème filled éclair? Or a glass of red wine? Or a study break from our Torts outlines?

What can the French teach us about lawyering? Turns out, quite a lot.


The idea that eating a croissant for breakfast is no big deal, so long as one simply doesn’t indulge that much the rest of the day speaks of course to the idea of balance. In Guiliano’s book, she provides numerous recipes for healthy foods that are staples in the French diet – like leek soup. These foods make up the foundation of their diet so that when they indulge, it’s not cause for concern.

Similarly, I’ve learned to apply this concept to my work. As a business owner and law firm manager working from home, I literally take my work home with me. When I first started my own practice, between raising my kids and handling legal matters, I was working on average twenty hours per day, seven days per week, for months. That’s simply not sustainable.

I’ve learned to make sure I get enough done so that when (not if, but WHEN) I take time off, it’s not an issue. The major work that needs to be done is done, which brings me to my next point.

Complete Three Main Things Per Day

Once I got hooked on Guiliano’s book on French culture, I decided to learn more. Naturally, I googled the subject and discovered Guiliano isn’t the only author touting the benefits of the French lifestyle. In fact, there are dozens of books on the market like Guiliano’s.

In my quest, I found an article that discusses how the French approach careers, which explained that the French create a list of three main things that have to be accomplished for the day, and that’s it. Three.

It’s no lie to say that my to-do list can sometimes go on for more than one page. It’s incredibly overwhelming and feels like it will never, ever end. As a busy working mom, I have a LOT to do. But, when I started narrowing down my day’s priorities to only three major things, I found I was actually more productive and I felt more accomplished. The list didn’t consume me.

That’s not to say that I only ever do three things a day. There are always lots of little things that need to be done. Call a client. Call a court. Send a handful of texts to clients. Mail a document. The idea, however, is to curate a prioritized list of the top three major things each day.

If you’re studying for the bar exam, for example, maybe your list consists of something like: Review Civil Procedure outline, Practice Civil Procedure questions, Study a Civil Procedure sample essay.

Try this approach and see what it does for you!

Finding Joie De Vivre

Lastly, studying French culture has inspired me to really find my joie de vivre, my zest for life. Law school is challenging. Studying for the bar exam is, too, but I hate to be the bearer of bad news and admit that practicing law isn’t much easier. Law school and the bar exam aptly prepare would-be lawyers for what can be a challenging career. Even managing a relatively low-stress practice in estate planning like I do, involves ups and downs.

Finding joy in the little things in life, as quaint as that may sound, does wonders for helping to cope with the challenges of a difficult industry. It’s no secret that the legal profession has its issues with drug and alcohol addiction. We lawyers work with difficult clients going through highly stressful situations.

Make sure you figure out what inspires you every day and take time for those things. If fresh flowers in your office helps you to relax, invest in fresh flowers every week. If taking a break for a manicure or massage helps you to feel your best, don’t hesitate to do it. If a cup of warm tea in the afternoon helps to pick you up, by all means, sip that tea.

Only when we take care of ourselves can we do our best for our clients.

The French Way

Incorporating rituals and philosophies of the French lifestyle have helped me to be more productive but more importantly to be happier. Try out some of these tips and see if the same is true for you.


Concerned about your law school grades? Get the feedback and support you need to succeed.

Check out our law school tutoring options at the Law School Toolbox.

Get started, and ensure you’re spending your time wisely!

Got a question? Drop us a line. We’re here to help!

About Hillary Vaillancourt

Hillary Vaillancourt is a lawyer and writer at The Vaillancourt Law Firm, LLC. She has experience in a wide variety of matters including food law, education law, real estate law, family law, criminal law, contracts, and estate planning. She earned her JD from New England Law|Boston and is licensed in Virginia.

Speak Your Mind