It was now or never for John Canoni. After 13 years at New York-based Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, he felt he’d grown a little too comfortable. So in February, he jumped to Hawkins Parnell Thackston & Young to launch a New York office for the 120-attorney, Atlanta-based law firm. 

Hawkins Parnell, which focuses much of its work on asbestos defense, operates in six additional cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Canoni, 44, said he concluded that if he ever wanted to make a dramatic career shift, it was right time.

The National Law Journal talked to Canoni about his move and his plans for the firm’s Big Apple location. The remarks below have been edited for brevity.

NLJ: Why Hawkins Parnell?

Canoni: I’ve known them for years. They’d been saying over the last few years that they wanted to move into New York. I figured that [at 44] it was just about the last time to do something like this and still keep my sanity.

NLJ: Have you?

Canoni: I talked to a number of people who’d made moves at other firms about the transition time. I heard a lot of horror stories about not being able to get what you needed when you move. I’ve been fortunate to have plenty of help from Atlanta. They ordered the furniture. They did a better job than I would have done.

NLJ: A lot of your experience is in asbestos litigation. Aren’t we about done with that? Isn’t there going to come a day when asbestos litigation is over?

Canoni: The only way that asbestos work will go away is if the client runs out of insurance and files for bankruptcy. If you have sufficient insurance, there will be asbestos litigation.

NLJ: So, is that what you’ll be doing?

Canoni: They would like to diversify their practices more. They want to do more products liability work, more complex commercial litigation, more labor and employment.

NLJ: How many attorneys will the New York office have a year from now?

Canoni: My goal is to have 10 lawyers in the office a year from now. Three partners and seven associates.

NLJ: How will you do that?

Canoni: I do not intend to do it other than by surgical hiring. I’m looking to take one person from a firm. Poaching from other firms is the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to establish yourself.

NLJ: What’s the recruiting pitch you plan to make to attorneys?

Canoni: I’ll tell them about the excitement of being in a place that is growing, about the opportunity to be part of that process, the opportunity to actually litigate cases.

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