Picking his battles
- Subtitle: Cross Examined
|Scott Cozens, right, bargaining for picks in Quebec. Photo: Cineflix|
The firm is comprised of a receptionist, two paralegals, and the husband and wife team of Cozens and Lana Wiens. The office is located in the hip Calgary neighbourhood of Kensington and is itself hip and super casual. On this day Cozens has worn a black T-shirt and jeans to work. He describes himself as not being a typical lawyer.
To a growing number of Canadians, Cozens is most recognizable when he’s dressed in his cowboy hat, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. He and Calgary auctioneer Sheldon Smithens, a friend for many years, are the stars of History Television’s Canadian Pickers. They drive themselves around the country looking for treasures to buy from amateur collectors. “We attract a certain demographic,” Cozens says. “I can go into a Starbucks and no one will recognize me. But if I walk into a Tim Hortons, even looking like this, everyone will know who I am.”
Cozens Wiens — the firm, not the couple — started three years ago when the pair left Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP. They met about 10 years ago while both were at Code Hunter Whitman Barristers, which merged with Gowlings in 2000, and specialize in civil litigation and insurance defence. Cozens is in his 21st year practising law and he and Wiens have two out-of-province insurance companies as their main clients.
Canadian Pickers is now filming its third season while the second season airs. It will shut down production for two months this summer while Cozens is involved in a civil suit that stemmed from a traffic accident in nearby Okotoks, Alta., that rendered a female passenger quadriplegic.
Cozens and Smithens became household names after Smithens was approached by History Television, which was looking for a pair of seasoned treasure hunters for a northern version of American Pickers. Needing a partner, he called Cozens. Their chemistry shone through during an audition and they got the gig.
Now in his early 50s, Cozens caught the picking bug as a child from both his late grandmother and mother, with whom he still attends sales in the Calgary area on weekends when he’s not away. They sometimes engage in friendly competition for finds. “My mom likes to tell the story about the time we went to a garage sale and I accidently put her up against a fence so she couldn’t get out of the car,” he says. “I typically get out of the car very quickly. I got in there and found a beautiful Steiff lion — a really nice toy — while she was still stuck in the car.”
Cozens and Smithens fly and drive to various locations that have been already been scouted by production staff and are often off the beaten path. They spend their own money to buy collectibles from regular Canadian folks and are planning a huge auction in Calgary this spring, where they will attempt to sell the best items for profit. “There’s three equal parts that I love about doing this — the people, the country, and the stuff. You’ve got to have all three or it’s not as satisfying.
“I’m ecstatic that we went to Newfoundland for the show, for example. I’d never been there and I loved it. I wouldn’t never have gone there had it not been for the show.
We’ve met some [jerks] along the way but we’ve also met some great people along the way, too.” Newfoundland was where Cozens and Smithens met a fellow named Gary, a medic in Vietnam, and bought from him some ivory pieces and a flask that was designed to hold morphine. That trip became the Feb. 13, 2012 show.
Cozens has a soft spot for anything native-related. Among his favourite possessions is an antique handmade fountain pen from the 1920s with a native headdress on the top that his grandmother bought “for a dime” and gave him when he was a boy.
He was hoping that a trip to La Ronge, Sask., which borders the 2,000-member Lac La Ronge First Nation, would be one of his most memorable trips. But a visit to a trading post there yielded nothing but a headache. “There was nothing to buy. [The collector] wouldn’t sell anything,” Cozens recalled of a trip that was shown in the first season. “People want to be on TV so they say they have stuff to sell. But when you get up there they don’t want to sell or want 10 times what it’s worth. It was a very frustrating trip for me.”
Somehow, says Wiens, who also is an avid collector, they have managed to keep their home becoming overrun with stuff and a suitable location for another popular TV show, Hoarders. “It’s a bit like this office,” she says, sitting in the boardroom of their tidy space. “It’s a real mix. He loves a wide range of things, so do I. He leans towards the pop culture, modern line of things. . . . At home we’ll have an 1850s hutch next to a really funky ’50s chair.”
Cozens admits the show is both a benefit and negative for his practice. “The people that I work for who are in the trenches like the fact that I’m on TV,” he says. “Whether people on the top of the heap care is an entirely different thing. They see a side of you that they don’t see when you are practising law. The negative is sometimes people don’t take you as seriously when they see you with long hair and a cowboy hat. I’ve never been this way, but there are people out there who judge you based on how you dress and what you look like.
“If you don’t have short hair and wear a suit, they don’t think you’re a heavy hitter. I love it when people misjudge me.”
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