Mother working surrounded by toys (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Maintaining a law practice while raising children is challenging enough. Doing it confined to home for weeks during the coronavirus crisis with a toddler underfoot and no child care is a whole other level of hard.

For Marguerite Higgons, an IP lawyer at Armengaud Guerlain in Paris and mother of an 18-month-old daughter, the trick is in realizing that you can’t plan every day—but you should plan for a marathon, not a sprint.

“Never a break, no time to yourself. It’s exhausting,” Higgons said by telephone from near Toulon, in the south of France, where she and her husband and daughter are staying during what is referred to in France as the COVID-19 confinement. “You have to stay flexible and find a rhythm, or you won’t make it.”

To ensure that measures to slow the spread of the virus have worked, the panel of scientists and health experts advising President Emmanuel Macron recommended this week that the initial two-week confinement that began March 17 be extended to six weeks, or until the end of April. French schools and day-care centers, closed since March 13, will probably stay closed at least until mid-April and possibly longer.

In many ways Higgons is lucky. For one thing, she and her firm are accustomed to remote working: Higgons has been telecommuting four days a week and spending one day a week in the office in Paris since her daughter was born. Armengaud Guerlain’s practices are consistent with French support of working parents through family-friendly policies like generous parental leave and subsidized child care.

“Our firm has been very early to promote flexibility, for parents especially,” Higgons said. “And now that everything can be done online, the mentality about working remotely has evolved here in a positive way.”

For another, she is well set up with home offices both in Paris and Toulon, so she can close the door and concentrate. In Paris, her daughter goes to a crèche, or day-care center, for part of the day while Higgons works at home. But in Toulon, Higgons said she often had to catch up on email and reading from her laptop in the living room or kitchen, with one eye on her daughter.

“It changes every day,” Higgons said of her new routine. “My husband works from home now, too—he is in finance—and we started out wanting to make a program. But after a few days, we realized it just wasn’t possible. We take it day by day.”

The day usually begins at 7:30 a.m. with a morning bottle for the baby, followed by family breakfast, where Higgons and her husband “try to contain our daughter” while checking their phones for work emails. Depending on whose business is more urgent, either Higgons or her husband will spend the morning working while the other watches their daughter until lunchtime.

During their daughter’s afternoon nap both Higgons and her husband can focus on work for a few hours. After the traditional French goûter, or afternoon snack, it’s family time again, including a walk outside if the weather Is nice.

Dinner is also a family affair—a big change from Paris, where Higgons often works late. “This is one way in which things are actually better now—we have more time together as a family, and my daughter loves it,” she said.

Once her daughter is in bed, Higgons returns to work if there is something urgent to handle. Even with French courts closed and judges working at a slower pace during the crisis, “cases still move forward, and you have to be diligent,” Higgons said.

“With IP work there can be some matters you have to attend to right away,” she added. “Take, for example, counterfeit goods on the internet. Even though shops are closed, the internet never sleeps, and the client can suffer immediate and ongoing damage if you don’t act.”

Otherwise, Higgons says she tries to “stay on my daughter’s rhythm” by winding down and going to bed soon after her daughter does, to get enough rest to be able to do it all again the next day—and the next, and the next.