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Toronto lawyer Ralph LeanFernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Bay Street lawyer Ralph Lean, a prominent Tory fundraiser and backroom player in Toronto mayoral politics, is leaving Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP after he says he could not make a "fair" deal to stay on past retirement age.

Mr. Lean, 67, is joining Heenan Blaikie LLP as "counsel," after he and Cassels could not agree on how much he should be paid to stay on past his former firm's mandatory retirement for partners at 68.

"I have nothing but good things to say about Cassels," he said in an interview. " ... I spent 23 years there. Some would say I had something to do with the firm growing from 75 to 220 [lawyers]. I think I made a contribution, and was part of the fabric. And I was quite surprised."

Mr. Lean, whose bio on Cassels's website boasts that he "possesses the largest business card Rolodex of any lawyer at Cassels Brock and arguably in Canada," leaves a law firm featuring multiple high-profile political personalities and moves to another.

Cassels counts former Ontario premiers David Peterson and Mike Harris on its roster – both recruited by Mr. Lean, he said – while Heenan Blaikie is home to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, and was home to Pierre Trudeau after he left politics.

"I am going to the firm of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, two people who I worked very strongly to toss out," Mr. Lean said, adding that he hoped to meet and play golf with Mr. Chrétien soon.

Mr. Lean said he expects many of his "major" clients to follow him to his new firm, which unlike Cassels has a network of national and international offices – as well as no mandatory retirement.

"I think it is really good platform for him, because it gives him a broader range of services that he can offer clients," said Heenan Blaikie's Toronto-based co-managing partner, Kip Daechsel.

In an e-mail, Cassels managing partner Mark Young declined to comment, saying the firm does not discuss departing partners or compensation arrangements.

Mr. Lean said Mr. Peterson and Mr. Harris supported his decision to leave.

"David and Mike Harris are devastated. I told David and Mike afterwards. I showed them the proposal that I asked for and what they offered me, and they both said to me, you had no choice," Mr. Lean said, adding that he had interest from several other firms.

The issue of mandatory retirement at law firms is headed before the Supreme Court of Canada, after a lawyer in Vancouver for Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP refused to step down at 65 and took his firm to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, alleging age discrimination. While mandatory retirement has been outlawed for most employees in Canada, clauses that force lawyers to retire are common in many firms' partnership agreements. Legally, Faskens has argued in the case, partners are not employees and are not covered by human rights legislation.

For decades, Mr. Lean has played a role in Toronto's municipal elections with his efforts to raise big money for mayoral candidates.

He made headlines when he defected from then-mayor-David Miller's camp in 2009, after fundraising for him in 2003 and 2006. But Mr. Miller's former campaign manager, Conservative strategist John Laschinger, said last year that Mr. Lean exaggerates his ability to raise funds, calling him "a legend in his own mind."

Mr. Miller, a lapsed NDP member, did not run in the 2010 election. And Mr. Lean would go on to co-chair former Liberal provincial cabinet minister George Smitherman's mayoral fund raising campaign, which raised more than $2.17-million before Mr. Smitherman lost to Rob Ford.

While he supported Mr. Smitherman in 2010, Mr. Lean says he has been very impressed with Mr. Ford's accomplishments on the city's finances and will support the controversial incumbent mayor in 2014, despite what he calls the "sideshows" and the "stupidity that Rob many times brings on himself."

(Jeff Gray is a Globe and Mail Law Reporter.)

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