New Zealand Law Society - West Coaster’s surprising moment opened door to law

West Coaster’s surprising moment opened door to law

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Born into a family of West Coast publicans, family law specialist, guitarist and marathon man Ross Knight remains a Coaster through and through.

“What a wonderful place the Coast is. I’ve been in Auckland since I was 17 and it doesn’t feel like home, not like those places where you get your formative years. I am very much a West Coaster through and through.”

Ross recently retired from partnership at TGT Legal, which he joined in 2017, to return to the independent Bar from November 1.

Ross Caine (Ross) Knight
Entry to law
Graduated LLB and LLM from Auckland University. Admitted in 1980.
Barrister in Old South British Chambers, Auckland.
Speciality area
Trust, estate and relationship property litigation.
Ross Knight
Ross Knight

“I had done a lot of work with TGT as instructing solicitor and they were looking for a litigation arm under the same roof, so it has been a good knit.

“But at the end of the day I have missed the independent Bar, the flexibility it gave me both personally and professionally, so I decided I would go back to the Bar. It’s a good decision for me. I want to continue developing and growing because you continue to do that even in your 60s.”

The youngest son of a West Coast publican, Ross boarded at Nelson College and then began BA studies at Auckland University with the dream of being a journalist.

“That was where I was going to head. In my first year at university I had a holiday job at the South Waikato News in Tokoroa, where I was given lowly jobs.

“The editor, Brian Burmester, asked why I wanted to do journalism. I told him I enjoyed writing, and to me journalism was a niche and sought-after field. He said ‘why don’t you think about law’.”

With no other lawyers in the family, and the youngest of seven, Ross and his older brother – a doctor - were the only ones who decided on a university career.

“I had no confidence I could do this so I started doing a BA with a view to getting that under my belt and thought I would do post grad in journalism.

“But after the first year, and having worked at South Waikato News, I put my first year BA results up as effectively my law intermediate and entry into law.

“Bugger me, I got into law school. I didn’t know any lawyers, or anyone in the law, and surprised myself by passing.

“In 1980 I applied for a job with Fortune Manning, when Bernard Kendall - the partner I was to work with - was appointed one of the initial Family Court judges and I essentially took over his practice.

“I didn’t start off wanting to do family law. He was on sabbatical when he was appointed, so I was moved into his office to look after his practice while he was away but he never came back.

“He has remained a good friend and mentor. And family law has really been my thing apart from my interest in education.”

Westport upbringing  

Ross’s parents Dick and Hilda aka “Cis”, and his grandparents, were publicans on the West Coast, where Dick and Cis had the Prince of Wales and City Hotel in Westport and before that the pub at Mokihinui, north of Westport, previously owned by Ross’s maternal grandparents.

“There are 17 years between me and my oldest brother. Dad died young in 1967 and a few years after that Mum moved to Auckland, where she died in 2014. We took her back to the Coast before then, and took her back when she died and buried her there.”

Ross is married to Suzie, a former school secretary, and they have two children, Andy and Laura, in their early 30s. Andy is a retail manager and Laura – as well as having children Isabella and Makere – has a make-up artistry business. “No-one was interested in pursuing the law.”

“We also have a beautiful Hungarian Vizsla dog called Ruby, who doesn’t leave my side.

“I love music and art, but my passion has always been in running and cycling.

“I got into running with Rhys Harrison [marathon runner, ocean swimmer and former Judge of the Court of Appeal, who was profiled in May 2018]. I do lots of long runs.

“I have run both the New York and Boston marathons. Running has been a huge part of my life and is a counterbalance to the stress of law.

“I also got into cycling and found that was a bit too dangerous after I came off a couple of times. Then got into yoga and go to a gym every morning and do cardio resistance training.

“I have always been passionate about exercise. I always felt that if I’m fit and healthy I’m better able to do whatever comes my way. Fitness is in the family.

Ross Knight and Ruby
Ross Knight and Ruby

“I did a stint with Rotary latterly, but it’s really not for me. I have had over the years an interest in education and before I went to the Bar it almost dominated my practice.

“I was appointed as commissioner of a residential school that was having all sorts of issues. I’ve done a lot of work for tertiary institutions, as a trustee of the Unitec Trust. Then became a council member of Unitec, and chair of Campbells Bay School board.

“My work has taken me to assist in areas that have been more work-related than charitable. And I do quite a bit of pro bono work.

“I’ve not done a lot of travel. I’ve been through North America and Australia, but travel is not something we have done much of yet.

“We have a beach property at Pauanui - a family retreat – and have always gone there since the kids were babies. There are lots of good memories, and the kids have gravitated there from time to time.”

Turning down Lew Pryme

“At boarding school I played the guitar with Guy Williams, who also became a lawyer, and we were offered a professional contract at age 17, by Lew Pryme, to record and play music.

“We entered a talent quest in Auckland in our holidays and won it. Lew approached us and offered professional contracts but we didn’t take up the offer. We played the music of the 70s - Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby Stills Nash and Young - that folk stuff.”

Ross plays a Martin acoustic guitar and always has music around. “I love music, country music, all sorts really.

“I particularly like Italian pianist and composer Ludovico, who writes music for films. I have enjoyed Einaudi more recently – his easy listening modern classical music. My favourite music would be in the folk/rock style, acoustic guitar and good harmonies.

“I like The Eagles, it’s the stuff I grew up on. I started a form of yoga called kundalini yoga which is more meditative and is done with eyes closed and music playing. Cool music, graceful, soulful new age music.

“I’m not a novel reader. I buy books about yoga and life, but I’m not a big reader. My wife will devour a couple of books a week.

“I don’t like sitting down, I tend to be more active so reading is not something I have ever been big at apart from what I have to do with my work.

“I don’t watch much television but like going to the movies for drama, action and cowboy films. I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood and have seen all of his films. I like a good thriller, or good action, it’s a good way of escaping.

“I have Ruby the dog and have had three dogs, each of them like training buddies with me while training for marathons. Ruby is more of a walker.

“I would very much like to meet Barack Obama over dinner, along with Don Henley and the late Glenn Frey of The Eagles. I’m not a good cook. I would find someone who could cook whitebait fritters as good as my mother and dish up a very West Coast type meal for Obama.

“I suspect he’s never tried West Coast whitebait.

“My wine of choice would be a pinot noir but not with whitebait. As the son of a publican I’m not very good at picking what to drink.

“I wanted to do journalism, but growing up as a kid I wanted to be a doctor. My elder brother was doing that, but I was never that flash, when push came to shove, at sciences, in particular maths.

“Going through school I think the thing I enjoyed most was writing. Even now I enjoy writing, I like producing the written word.

“If I could wake up tomorrow and have a completely new and financially supportive career it would probably be to write. I would love to do that.”

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at

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