New Zealand Law Society - Head-butting Westie couldn't refuse Fat Vito

Head-butting Westie couldn't refuse Fat Vito

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By Jock Anderson

Leo Mark (Mark) Kelly
Liverpool, England. 
Entry to law
Graduated LLB(Hons) from Auckland University in 1993. Admitted 1993. 
Mark Kelly Barrister and Commercial Mediator, Park Chambers, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Contract and property, insolvency, negligence, IP disputes, employment disputes, trustee liability issues, and medico-legal matters.
Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly

After “head-butting” his way out of Liverpool when only six months old, Sopranos fan Mark Kelly was brought up a Westie who reckons his “vanilla” Ford Territory is a latter day Holden Kingswood.

After the family migrated to New Zealand in 1970 his teacher parents taught at Whakatane High School, followed by three years in Queenstown, before settling in west Auckland.

“I was brought up a Westie, and had a couple of Kingswoods – a station wagon and a sedan…” says Mark.

“I started at Auckland university as a feckless leftie Westie with a swagger I didn’t deserve to have.

“I took on a whole lot of BA papers until my parents suggested I might like to do something to go with that and law might be a good idea…

“Because I wasn’t as much of a rebel as I thought I acceded to that and found I enjoyed it … I enjoyed the history, the language and the way law affected so many aspects of society.

“What really sold me on law was when I started work at Russell McVeagh in 1994 and had some stunning bosses, such as Fred Thorp, Matt Dunning and the late Robert Fardell, who were amazing to work for … We worked hard and played hard…”

With a lawyer brother-in-law and two lawyer sisters-in-law, it came as little surprise to Mark when his Dad retired from teaching and did a law degree.

“He hasn’t practised but I had the pleasure of moving his admission to the bar about six years ago.

“Dad met John Lennon at a Liverpool University gig before the Beatles became famous. Dad was on the student union and after the party Lennon came to the door and asked ‘Can we have our money, please…’.”

Before starting a family, Mark and wife Erica – now a breast cancer surgeon at the Auckland Breast Centre – took off for Dublin in 1999 to advance their careers and check out Mark’s Irish heritage.

He worked for leading law firm A&L Goodbody, and the couple lived in a tiny flat in Temple Bar, surrounded by about 100 pubs. “It was a huge amount of fun…”

He returned as a litigator with Simpson Grierson for four years before going to the bar in 2005.

“I was always attracted by the flexibility of working for myself. Going to the bar was always going to work best for me.

“With Erica having a challenging and significant career it was a good way for us to pursue both careers and organise life with two kids.

“At the bar you have a much greater ability to come and go as you please, you can work from home if you want and do not have responsibility of other mouths to feed, or supervise, deal with HR, administration and all that goes with it…”

Life outside law is taken up with the kids – aged 11 and nine - Leggo, nerf gun wars, standing on soccer sidelines, climbing, horse-riding and skiing, or on the water in what Mark calls his “little fizz boat”.

“I am an unsuccessful fisherman, something the kids constantly tease me about. I have put more protein into the ocean than I’ve taken out…”

He supports the Peace Foundation and by teaching kids about mediation, listening skills and strategies is able to help equip youngsters with the skills to manage disputes and defuse difficult situations.

He is also on the roster for the Otara Citizens Advice Bureau.

Seven years ago – as a result of a connection a patient of his wife had – he joined the board of Glen Taylor School, a decile 1 school in Glen Innes which Prime Minister John Key has taken an interest in.

“The principal Lin Avery was looking for supplementary board members. Education turned out to be a fascinating and different world for me.

“They are doing amazing work at the school, focused on improving basics and improving academic performance. Glen Taylor School has refused steadfastly to be labelled by the decile 1 thing…

“They expect their kids to be achieving above the decile 1 level and they are.”

When John Key took former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to the school for a visit, she spoke to a group of 10 year old banjo-players who performed for her, asking them what they wanted to do when they finished school.

“One kid’s hand shot up: ‘Watch TV, Miss…’

“When she explained she meant what they wanted to do when they had finished all their schooling, they all wanted to be lawyers, doctors and accountants…

“Erica and I consider ourselves immodestly to be afficianados of “quality” TV … such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Treme and Outrageous Fortune…

“We are Sopranos tragics… The last time we were in New Jersey we did the Sopranos tour round the Bada Bing (Satin Dolls strip club in real life), Satriales Pork Shop, all the places…

“Joseph Gannascoli – who played 'Fat Vito' Spatafore – came down in a swish Mercedes, had photos taken with all of us and then required $20 a photo.”

(Not long after Fat Vito’s closeted homosexuality was revealed in The Sopranos fifth season, he came to a brutal end.)

“Even although he personally murdered about ten people and ordered the killings of countless others, I could have a beer with Tony Soprano but I couldn’t love Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson character from Boardwalk Empire the same way.”

In between reading books on mediation, Mark’s fancy includes Dennis Lehane’s The Drop – adapted from a feature film starring the late James “Tony Soprano” Gandolfini – and Adam Johnson’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize fiction winner The Orphan Master’s Son.

“I am colossally musically clumsy, and got a D for music in the fourth form … I can’t keep time … I’m banned from participating…”

A keen marathon and half marathon runner, Mark finished second in his age group at Tauranga recently and competed at Noosa in Queensland this month.

“I did the Christchurch marathon last year but made a few mistakes in my nutrition, including having too much beetroot juice, and spent about 10km vomiting.

“Between kms 20 and 30 I was covered in purple and looked like a drunk Mr Blobby … People were going past saying ‘What’s happened to that guy???...’.”

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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