Creative works by lawyers
To most people, a quilt is just a comfy bed covering. But for Robin Russell, managing partner at
Andrews Kurth Kenyon’s Houston office, it’s a
means of artistic expression that belongs on a wall
or a table.
Her whimsical work “Summer Salad” was chosen for display at the 2015 Houston International
Quilt Festival. It looks good enough to eat—until,
on closer inspection, you see that Russell has sewn
ladybugs into the lettuce and broccoli. In art—as in
law—it’s all in the details.
“My grandmother taught me how to sew and
embroider when I was very young,” says Russell,
who started making her own school clothes at age
10. “I try to always have a small piece of needlepoint in my purse.” She’s the woman in the Brooks
Brothers suit stitching away on business flights.
“Handwork is very therapeutic.”
But Russell has learned to keep her artwork out
of the boardroom. “I remember one day at a CLE
session, I went up to a speaker and told him how
much I enjoyed his talk,” Russell recalls. “He said
he was surprised I was paying attention because I
was doing needlepoint. But when I’m doing handwork, I can follow every conversation.”
Growing up 35 miles south of San Antonio, Russell’s dream was to be a home economics teacher.
But after the Devine High valedictorian scored
off the charts on her SATs, a school administrator suggested she might be suited for a career
in medicine or the law. After a semester at Texas
Tech University, where she received a valedictorian
scholarship, she changed her focus and ended up
with a degree in international business. Russell
eventually followed her two older brothers into law
school. But she never stopped sewing.
She was more of a needlepoint artist when she
met her quilting mentor, Frances Holliday Alford,
12 years ago in Vermont. When Alford, also a native
Texan, showed Russell her studio, the lawyer’s
eyes opened to the possibilities of art quilting.
Any piece of material can be used for decoration, so when Russell says she’s going “sale-ing”
on a Saturday morning, she’s not going out on
the water, but to garage sales and thrift stores.
The last time she was in New York City on business, Russell stopped on the sidewalk outside the
In Robin Russell’s world, practicing law and quilting are both fine arts.
BY MICHAEL CORCORAN
Metropolitan Museum of Art to pick up the metal
admissions buttons patrons discarded.
Russell won a national needlepoint competition
run by the Women’s Educational and Industrial
Union of Boston in 1991, also a pivotal year in her
legal career. Just three years out of Baylor Law
School, Russell joined the firm’s Boston team in
representing the Bank of New England in a $32
billion bankruptcy case. Russell was inexperienced
in the area, but was tagged so she could be with
her husband, Jim Paulsen, who was accepted to
Harvard to get his LL.M. He now teaches at South
Texas College of Law.
She’s one of the country’s leading bankruptcy
experts, having co-written Last Rites: Liquidating a
Company for Oxford University Press in 2007 and
presented countless papers on bankruptcy law.
She has also written a biography of her mother,
Russell sees a correlation between her art proj-
ects and her complex bankruptcy cases. “You learn
to step back every now and then,” she says. “When
you spend so much time working on a brief, you
sometimes have to set it aside for a while and then
come back with a fresh perspective.”
And in both art and law, she gives back. For 12
years, she’s hosted an annual Vintage Valentine
Party—inviting other women attorneys to her home