Firms need to accommodate older lawyers who want to work: Lean

Veteran lawyer and political campaigner Ralph Lean has called for firms to better accommodate those who wish to work into their 70s, as he leaves Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP for Heenan Blaikie LLP.

Lean is leaving Cassels next Tuesday after he says the firm failed to make him an offer to stay beyond its mandatory retirement age of 68 that he felt reflected his experience.

Lean, who is 67, tells Legal Feeds: “In early January they offered me a contract for two years but we couldn’t agree. . . They offered me less than I thought I was worth.”

He had “nothing negative to say” about Cassels, where he has worked for 25 years, noting he was leaving on good terms.

“In the past two days I’ve had 25 to 30 partners visit me. They’re devastated that I’m leaving but understand it was a business decision,” he says.

But he believes firms need to “figure how do we deal with 68 year olds who want to stay and want to practise.”

“We live in an age of age discrimination,” he says. “The present 67, 68 is the old 40. I’m choosing to carry on working because I want to. I’ve seen too many of my clients sell their business and have more money than they ever dreamed possible and almost 100 per cent of them get sick.

“I didn’t want to go to Florida for five months a year. I imagined putting deals together and raising money for political campaigns and raising money for charity.”

Lean sits on the board of several charities and is a visiting professor at Ryerson University as well as a well-known political fundraiser.

A self-declared Conservative, he plans to support controversial Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s re-election campaign in 2014, due to Ford’s “economic performance.”

In 2010, he worked with Ford’s unsuccessful Liberal opponent George Smitherman. He previously raised funds for former Toronto mayor David Miller, before withdrawing from the camp after several years due to clients’ concerns with the direction Miller was taking.

He says he is excited to be joining a firm that counts prime minister Pierre Trudeau among its alumni, and will move to Heenan Blaikie on May 1 as counsel.

The contract lasts just over 2.5 years, but both parties “expect it to get renewed,” says Lean, who notes he was offered a “significant bonus based on performance.”

He is confident the majority of his clients will move with him, due to the close relationships and networks he has built over the years.

“I have a huge Rolodex. I probably know more people than any lawyer in the country,” he says.

His web site reveals his clients include Donald Trump and NBA star Vince Carter and that he goes fishing with former U.S. president George Bush.

He hopes to also use his role as honorary consul for the Kingdom of Morocco to connect contacts there with Heenan Blaikie’s Paris office and says he will play a part in the firm’s China strategy, making the most of his “spectacular contacts in the government.”

He adds: “I hope I can make the next 20 years at Heenan Blaikie. My vision has always been to die at my desk, unless I have a health issue and can’t get to my desk.

“This has been a very troubling month but I never felt younger. I have a new career. My new partners are excited and jumping in files and calling me and couldn’t have welcomed me more.”

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