ABA chief resigns as group of lawyers fight to keep members

  • Jack Rives has led the ABA as Executive Director since 2010
  • Reversing the drop in dues-paying membership was a priority during his tenure

(Reuters) – The top executive of the American Bar Association will step down in February after more than 12 years at the helm, the group said on Thursday.

Jack Rives became executive director of the ABA, the country’s largest voluntary bar association, in 2010, overseeing an operation that now has 166,000 paying members and a staff of more than 1,000.

The ABA said deputy executive director Alpha Brady will temporarily take over for Rives while he searches for a permanent replacement.

The organization credited Rives with expanding the continuing legal education courses offered to ABA members and increasing the domestic and international grants the group receives to advance its rule of law and other legal projects of $56 million per year. It also eliminated $42 million in annual expenses by limiting ABA staff and cutting other operating expenses, he said.

But the ABA struggled to cope with declining membership and dues income during Rives’ tenure. The group lost around 56,000 dues-paying members between 2009 and 2019, prompting it to overhaul its membership structure that year with the aim of making it less complex, more affordable and more attractive to lawyers.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 resulted in further budgetary pressures on the ABA as law firms, law schools and other legal employers cut expenses and in-person events were cancelled.

Rives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. He said leading the ABA was an “incredible honour” when announcing his departure.

Attracting members remains a top priority, Rives told the ABA House of Delegates when it met in August. He noted that less than 20% of the country’s roughly 850,000 active lawyers are currently members, adding that the widespread perception of the organization as “too political” has put off some potential members.

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Jon J. Epps