retirement

Recycle Your Business Know-How

Retired doctors, lawyers, executives and other professionals are finding new uses for their expertise by becoming volunteers.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the September 2008 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Warren Sinsheimer wasn't ready to give up the practice of law when he retired in 1995 as a partner at the Manhattan firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. Rather than look for another corporate-law position, he decided to use his legal expertise to help children.

For four years, Sinsheimer volunteered for a legal-services group that provided free help to poor kids. In 1999, he founded the Partnership for Children's Rights (www.kidslaw.org), a nonprofit law firm in New York City that offers disadvantaged children with disabilities free assistance in gaining access to special education and Social Security disability benefits. "I found that children were the most underrepresented group legally in the U.S.," he says.

At age 80, Sinsheimer puts in 40-hour work weeks as the unpaid president of the firm, which has a $1 million budget, a staff of four paid lawyers, and dozens of volunteer lawyers and social workers. He recruits his volunteer lawyers, most of whom are retired, from the local bar associations.

Some retirees look to volunteer work to try out something entirely new. But Sinsheimer is one of many retired lawyers, doctors, teachers and other professionals who are applying their decades of training and experience in a volunteer capacity.

Serving Poor Patients

In Hilton Head, S.C., more than 200 retired doctors, dentists and nurses provide free medical care to 8,500 indigent patients at the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic (www.vimclinic.org). Dr. Robert Brown, 62, is one of those retirees. Brown was an infectious-disease specialist and hospital administrator in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., when he retired in 2005 in his late fifties. He now works about three mornings a week.

The clinic enables him to avoid the hassles and 60-hour work weeks of private practice, he says, "while filling a community need." Since the nonprofit clinic was founded in 1993, 54 clinics in 29 states have opened similar facilities.

Like Sinsheimer, Edward Ginsburg rechanneled his legal expertise when he retired in 2002 after 25 years as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. He set up Senior Partners for Justice (www.spfj.org) in Boston to provide legal help to low-income residents on divorce, domestic abuse and other family-law matters. "I realized that all too many low-income people were going into court without lawyers or representing themselves," says Ginsburg, 75. "It's like going into a hospital and doing your own heart surgery."

Half of the 400 volunteer lawyers Ginsburg has recruited are retired. "For many, it's a chance to live their law-school dream," he says.

Many trade groups and professional associations encourage retired members to volunteer. The American Bar Association's Senior Lawyers Division (www.abanet.org/srlawyers) offers pro bono projects to help the elderly and children. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (www.aicpa.org) asks members to counsel nonprofits, small businesses and individuals who can't afford accounting services. About 4,000 retired computer programmers have joined SeniorNet (www.seniornet.org) to teach basic computer skills to other retirees.

Kay Morse, 64, spent 25 years with Hewlett-Packard as a human resources manager. After moving from Harvard, Mass., a Boston suburb, to Falmouth on Cape Cod, the retired corporate trainer began recycling her business know-how at the Falmouth Historical Society's two museums. "I work with volunteers, especially docents, to develop their communications and presentation skills," she says.

Morse found that her human resources skills were easily transferable to her nonprofit work. "Volunteers are often easier to work with than corporate employees," she says. "They speak their minds freely compared with corporate personnel, who often fear retaliation by their manager."

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