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Scott Cozens ('91): Canadian Picker

Scott Cozens - Always open to new ideas and old treasures

donalee Moulton
from Hearsay Magazine
Volume 35, Winter 2013/14

Many alumni know Scott Cozens, class of ‘91, for his cross-examination technique and his summation savvy. Many Canadians, however, know the Calgary-based lawyer for his ability to spot a collectible at 500 yards and negotiate a deal that also comes with bragging rights.

Scott is the co-host of Canadian Pickers, an hour-long show from the History channel that features the Alberta native and a colleague scouring basements, barns, garage sales, attics, and other nooks and crannies for collectibles that can be resold at a profit. Unlike like his successful law career, Scott’s success in front of the cameras was unplanned and unanticipated.

His foray into television started with a phone call from his now co-host, Sheldon Smithens who had been contacted about a new proposed TV show on “picking”. That call led to an informal audition. “I thought nothing of it,” says Scott of the camera person and, as he later discovered, director who followed the dynamic duo as they spent some time looking for hidden treasure.

“We did what we normally do,” says Scott. “Six weeks later I got a call saying, ‘Congratulations, you got the job.’ I said, ‘What job?’”

Scott initially turned the television job down since it called for 13 episodes at seven days of filming per episode. He and his wife, Lana Wiens, had just launched their own firm, Cozens Wiens LLP, and the demands of launching a new practice and running a new office were significant. He and Lana also have three kids, Liam, aged 16, Nash, 9, and Nico, 6.  The show’s producers, however, kept lowering the time requirements to accommodate the demands of the practice, and eventually Scott signed on the dotted line.

He never imagined the ink would have time to dry. “No one expected the show to be this hit,” he says. “I actually never thought that History would even air it after they realized we couldn’t act. They did, and the audience for the show just kept growing.”

Today the show, now filming its fourth season on the History channel, consumes about 90 days of Scott’s year – and those are long days. “We’re working 10 to 15 to 18 hours a day,” he says. “It takes about 45 hours to film one hour of TV. There is a lot of downtime.”

There is much about filming a hit TV show that Scott is passionate about. “The best part is that I get to see Canada,” he says. “There are lots of places I’ve never been to before. I also get to meet lots of weird and crazy people – and I get to buy stuff.” 

That last passion may be genetic. Scott’s grandmother, he says, was a “white elephant table aficionado,” and his mother was one of the first in his hometown of Calgary to religiously scour garage sales. “She also worked in the auction business,” says Scott, who started collecting when he was eight years old and still has the Toledo sword letter opener that was his first purchase.

Of course, 12- to 18-hour days can also wear thin. Despite his laid back appearance on the show – jeans, cowboy hat, and boots, Scott says he is not a patient man. “I am not good at saying ‘Hello’ six times from six different angles.  I want to get ‘picking.’”

What Scott really does like – and where he devotes most of his time and energy – is the practice of law. His path en route to Dalhousie and an LL.B. was circuitous. He started as a junior hockey player with no expectations of getting a degree. “I grew up in a family where no one went to university,” Scott says.  “It is not that it was discouraged; it is just that we never talked about it.  We didn’t think we were ‘those type of people.’”

When dreams of a career on ice melted, Scott became an electrician and worked in this field for almost a decade as well as honing his skills as a probationary assistant golf pro (a career he decided against because “the hours were not for me”). So Scott turned to the University of Calgary where he upgraded in order to apply to law school.

Somewhere along the way law emerged as a strong possibility for the next chapter in Scott’s CV. It’s a decision that would not have surprised his mother. “Every time we had an argument, she said I should be a lawyer.  “Apparently I was cross-examining even though I did not know how to,” he says.

Family disagreements aside, Scott admits he had no idea what a lawyer actually did for a living. “All I knew,” he says, “was the stuff I’d seen on TV.” 

Law school changed that. “I found the theory behind law very interesting and the intellectual aspect of a legal education was inspiring,” says Scott, who worked at the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service while in school and took one of his cases, regarding a charge of uttering a death threat, to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

What Scott brought to his legal education was a healthy dose of scepticism. “We reviewed a lot of case studies in class. I found them nebulous,” he says. “It seemed like decisions could go either way. I was sceptical.”

“I always had a practical point of view,” Scott adds. “I’ve always believed judges are human. They have a point of view. That hasn’t changed.”

Scott’s ability to question what is being proffered bodes well in his practice today, which focuses primarily on insurance litigation. It was a friend at law school, Geoff Mar, interestingly, who also pointed him in this direction, at least inadvertently by telling him what firms to apply for in Calgary. “I knew nothing about law or how to find a job. A friend told me where to apply,” says Scott, who articled with Code Hunter in Calgary in 1991.

Here he met his mentor C. Scott Brooker, a Dal law grad and now a judge in Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench. Scott became a partner at Code Hunter in 1999. Code Hunter went on to merge with Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP (Gowlings) in 2000, and Scott continued to work at Gowlings as a partner for nine years before starting his own firm with his wife Lana.

The desire to set out on his own, in tandem with his wife Lana, had more to do with family than with a desire to be independent. “We have three kids, and we wanted more flexibility,” notes Scott. “In a big firm, that can be hard to do at times.”

Cozens Wiens is a fortuitous partnership, in more ways than the obvious. While the practice of law engages Scott, the running of a law office does not interest him. “The biggest issue for me in the change from big firm to small are all the ‘piddly’ little things you have to deal with like when the photocopier breaks, if the roof leaks, and payroll. It does make for a different view of law. Fortunately, Lana is much better at administration than me, and essentially manages the firm.”

On the surface, it may look like Scott Cozens has two parallel careers. However, he notes, his legal career comes first and foremost. Interestingly, it may be connected to his avocation as a picker. “I’m not sure whether learning the skills I did in law school made me a better picker or being a good picker made me a better lawyer,” he says with a laugh.

The ability to negotiate is critical in both fields—and tolerance is an essential attribute. The latter Scott credits to his time at Dalhousie. “Law school dramatically opened my mind. It made me more tolerant. It taught me to think things through.”

It’s a skill valued by lawyers and collectors alike.  •