New Zealand Law Society - Sideline boos don't deter refereeing lawyer

Sideline boos don't deter refereeing lawyer

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Lawyering and rugby refereeing are similar, says Sam Fellows – "You are under pressure to make decisions and there are always noisy crowds on the sideline…"

A premier grade referee, Sam recently returned to his Tauranga hometown to join Holland Beckett's civil litigation team after a stint at Simpson Grierson in Auckland.

Sam Bryce (Sam) Fellows
Entry to law
Graduated LLB(Hons) and Bachelor of Sport and Leisure Studies (BSpLS) from Waikato University in 2013. MSpLS from Waikato University in 2014. Admitted in 2014. 
Holland Beckett, Tauranga. 
Speciality area
Civil litigation, disputes resolution and sports law.
Sam Fellows
Sam Fellows

"Lawyering helps refereeing, and vice versa, because you are instantly interpreting the law and things happening in front of you … I love the pressure of the game and the law because you are need to make decisions…

"If I'm being booed or there's a lot of crowd noise it heightens my awareness and while the crowd might not like it I feel I'm making the right decision…"

A back injury at 16 resulting from a power boat collision while rowing in a coxless pair put paid to a rugby playing career.

"I did sport science at high school, loved studying and was looking for a way to link that with law…"

Lawyering helps refereeing, and vice versa…

The first person in his family to go to university, and the first lawyer, Sam was the first student at Waikato University to do law and sport and leisure degrees at the same time.

Initially he could not do both but after some discussions with university authorities he was able to do a double degree course that was made for him. "A few years later they made it a conjoint degree…"

His law studies and interest in governance saw Sam become involved with rugby refereeing and the Parafed physical disability sport organisation in Waikato, helping ensure Parafed's governance was strong enough to get funding from the Halberg Trust.

"That what really kicked off my interest in sport law in particular…"

Working in Simpson Grierson's sport and entertainment team gave him more insight into the subject.

"I was in Willy Akel's team working on defamation and top secret cases where you can't even say who your clients are … that was real cool…

"I always said I would never get into a big firm and Waikato is not always seen as such a good law school, but Simpson Grierson gave me a shot and I will always be grateful to them for giving me the break…"

A strong supporter of Camp Quality for children living with cancer, Sam also helped set up the Zimbabwe Rural Schools Library Trust while at university with a student friend from Zimbabwe.

"The idea took my attention because for me and my family education has been so important … My parents really strived to ensure that I could get to university and get the things that they couldn't get, so I thought the library trust was pretty important…

"I helped out and helped submit papers to the Charities Commission, and we worked together to get trust started…

"Now we've got enough money together and are about to send our first shipment of books to Zimbabwe…"

A John Grisham thriller fan, Sam also reads biographies such as Nelson Mandela - "learning about how successful people think"- and the story of American hiker and traveller Chris McCandless, also known as Alex Supertramp, who died during an ill-fated Alaskan adventure.

In the throes of building a house with partner Victoria (also from Tauranga), television time is limited to the news and keeping abreast of Toy Story with Victoria's two and half year old son Max, who enjoys holidays at the Waihi Beach family bach.

"One of the reasons we moved back to Tauranga is to let Max enjoy growing up in this environment…

"When I did my Masters in sport and leisure I did some tutoring and taught the odd lecture so if I wasn't a lawyer I would probably be an academic and pursue sport education…

"Sport and physical activity are an integral part of people's lives … It reflects what we are as a society …  Sport is a good barometer of where we are as a society…

"My car is embarrassing – a 1997 Suzuki Cultus – a junk car I have had since student days … But it goes well, is a station wagon and we can put loads of things in it…

"Victoria's got a Subaru Outback and she's always nagging me that because I'm a lawyer I should be getting a nicer car … But it gets me from A to B and to rugby…

"My family – who are pretty well spread out – would be my first choice as dinner guests and I'd like to chat to Helen Clark, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel to see what's going on in the world…

"I like refereeing because each year brings new law changes and law variations … new things trying to make the game better … It keeps you on your toes … I love rugby and want to make each game the best I can…

"I'm never really too concerned about what people think of me … You have to be who you are…

"If I spent all my time worrying about what people thought of me why would I be a lawyer or a rugby referee???"

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at

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