New Zealand Law Society - Former Russell McVeagh solicitor, full-time windsurfer

Former Russell McVeagh solicitor, full-time windsurfer

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Antonio Cozzolino
Antonio Cozzolino

Born in Auckland to a French mother and an Italian father, Antonio Cozzolino spent about half of his life in growing up in Europe. In New Zealand, Antonio attended Sacred Heart College in Auckland.

He’s now taken a break from his legal career to devote himself full-time to being selected to represent New Zealand in the 2020 Olympics as a windsurfer. He is currently ranked world number 67 in the RS:X class, and has been as high as 46. Antonio, who is 30, was admitted in June 2013.

What’s your Bachelor of Arts major in?

“French and Linguistics. I grew up speaking French, Italian and English so I was very interested in languages. For a long time, I thought that my career would involve language. As it turns out it did, though not in the way I had imagined.”

Do you remember why your 12-year-old self thought “yes, windsurfing” instead of a more ‘traditional’ school sport?

“Well to start with, if I could go back in time, I would tell my three-year-old self ‘tennis’. I don’t remember exactly what I thought but I have a random collection of memories from that time.

“The first one is simply the sense of freedom that windsurfing gives you. You are master and commander. That’s a very liberating feeling because, of course, at 12 years old, you are tethered to your parents and to your school. You are also a long way off being able to drive a car by yourself. So yes, freedom certainly contributed to my affection for the sport.

“What really got me though was a time about six months after I had started windsurfing. I remember it clearly. I was standing behind the couch watching Barbara Kendall in the last race at the Sydney Olympic Games (she claimed bronze) and said to my parents with such naive conviction: ‘I’m going to do that. I’m going to go to the Olympics.’ Well, I haven’t just yet, but I’m certainly going to try my best to.”

Law can be quite a serious profession with rules, regulations and itchy wigs. Windsurfing seems like a free spirited, no holds barred type of choice – without the wigs. Why did you choose to work in the legal profession?

[Audible laugh] “Well, actually, windsurf racing is governed by the Racing Rules of Sailing and quite frequently you can find yourself in protest rooms (a type of arbitral tribunal where you bring claims for incidents on the racecourse) arguing about real and even precedents.

“What appealed to me in windsurfing was the competitive aspect, so it is perhaps just by chance that I became passionate about the wind and waves rather than some other competitive pursuit.

“The law too, however, is a competition, or at least the work of a litigator is. I was always very interested in finding rules around the rules, oddly interested in process and justice, and quick to want to speak for those less able to.”

Antonio Cozzolino windsurfing in a race
Antonio Cozzolino windsurfing in a race

You’ve studied law in both Australia and New Zealand. What – if any – are the differences between the tertiary education systems?

“Well, that’s really quite hard to comment on because my study in New Zealand was undergrad, whereas my study in Australia was for a masters degree.

“What I can say is that we significantly underrate the quality of our tertiary providers here in New Zealand. When I studied in Sydney, yes the buildings were historic, beautiful and fancy. And yes, the university flew in the leading experts to lecture in the many interesting courses on offer. But the reality is that I think the quality of my learning was just as good if not better, here in Auckland.”

While working at Russell McVeagh, you were also the Chair of the NZLS Auckland Young Lawyers’ Committee from 2015 until this year. Can you tell me a bit about your time there?

“In a nutshell I oversaw, with varying degrees of involvement, all the events that we held for young lawyers.

“The AYL’s main objective is to promote collegiality among the young members of the profession. In practice that meant holding regular social and educational events that appealed to our members. I really enjoyed my time with the Law Society and I am proud of many of the things we did.”

Personal legal career highlight so far?

“Difficult to choose just one. I have been privileged to work with such a great bunch of people and I probably won’t fully appreciate that for years to come. In particular, Sarah Armstrong, Malcolm Crotty and Richard McIlraith – they invested heavily in my development and I’m very grateful for it.

“People aside, I very much enjoyed organising a hearing for the Court of Arbitration for Sport held at Russell McVeagh on behalf of the Oceania Registry, which normally sits in Sydney.”

Personal windsurfing career highlight so far?

“Again, difficult to pick just one.

“2011 was easily my best year (so far), I was on the verge of consistently cracking the Top 10 barrier, and was frequently pushing the best guys in the world in individual races. So, I have fond memories of that time.

“But my real highlight was not so much a result of personal achievement. In 2008 my very close friend, Tom Ashley, asked me to be part of his training group in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. That entire experience was very special, particularly because he won gold (in the sailboard class).

“It was all quite surreal, and nice to have felt that perhaps, even if only in a small way, I contributed towards that.”

How are you preparing for the mindset change between a professional, full-time job as a lawyer to a professional full-time sportsman?

“Well, the mindset is actually the same. You’re trying to be really good at something. If anything though, it’s probably a matter of bringing that lawyerly ‘no stone unturned’ approach to the sport. Be more strategic, work smart, work hard and all those other clichés you can think of.”

Aside from windsurfing, what do you do to disengage from a stressful day?

“I have a broad range of interests which I turn to for relaxation. Cinema is one of them.

“I really enjoy music as well. I was never put through any music school or anything as a child, much to my frustration, so a few years ago I just thought ‘well, stuff it’. I bought a piano and a guitar and taught myself how to play. It’s still a work in progress but I really enjoy it and it’s (mostly) relaxing.

“Dance is another pastime that I very much enjoy, and I try to do as much as I can.

“Generally, it’s fair to say I’m pretty sporty. I do a lot of running, cycling and tennis.”

Other hobbies?

“Anything tech-related I’m also very interested in. I enjoy web design and I appreciate good marketing, and have a big interest in fashion – though my wardrobe for the next few years will consist mostly of wetsuits and board shorts.”

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