ABA Leadership

Reflections of an Executive Director: Jack Rives says farewell

  • Print.

Jack Rives

Jack Rives is stepping down as executive director in February after nearly 13 years at the ABA. Photo courtesy of ABA Media Relations.

It’s said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I have certainly found that to be true.

In November, I announced my decision to leave the ABA at the end of February. For several months, I have been working with our officers and senior staff to assure a good transition.

I joined the ABA staff on Law Day 2010 after a career as a judge advocate (military attorney). When I entered the armed forces in 1977, I intended to serve only my four-year ROTC commitment and then begin to practice law in the private sector. Yet as I went from one meaningful and challenging opportunity to another, my service in the U.S. Air Force ultimately reached more than 33 years. I enjoyed a wide range of assignments all over the world. My family moved 16 times, and I traveled to every state and more than 50 countries. What a journey it was.

When it was time to move on from the military, I wanted responsibilities that would be similarly interesting and impactful. I learned the ABA’s executive director position was open, and I jumped at the opportunity and applied for the job. In many ways, the ABA has shaped my entire legal career. While in law school, I had looked forward to graduating, passing the bar, being admitted, and becoming a member of the American Bar Association. My certificate of ABA membership was one of the first things I hung on my wall as a new lawyer.

Serving the American Bar Association has proved to be even more significant and worthwhile than I expected it could be. I intended to stay at the ABA for a short period, and here I am in my 13th year on an incredible journey leading the staff of a wonderful organization. The work is often inspiring. Our association’s four goals are much more than mere words. They are calls to action: to serve our members; improve our profession; eliminate bias and enhance diversity; and advance the rule of law. It’s a journey on which we have made consistent progress as our member-leaders and staff rise to the occasion to help bring our goals closer to reality.

As executive director of the ABA, I take pride in the work we do to assist our members, the legal profession and society. We empower attorneys to become better lawyers and achieve professional success through continuing legal education, opportunities to collaborate and critical resources. For the legal profession, we maintain and monitor ethical standards and rules to promote a better and more equal and fair justice system. For society, we work to ensure access to justice for Americans in need as we serve around the globe to promote the rule of law.

Changing with the times

My time as executive director encompassed a period of profound change. Technology is spurring significant developments in the aggressive legal market, and the changes have been complicated by the unexpected pandemic and ensuing economic turmoil. The association stepped up to meet these challenges, initiating historic improvements to our member experience. Recent enhancements to our member engagement include personalized content pushed to members based on their areas of interest. We continue to upgrade the ABA website and online experience. Our paywall ensures our valuable content and resources are limited to our members in most cases. Our overall efforts have reversed the long-standing trend of declining dues-paying membership. Of course, it will be critical to build upon these successes.

While my time on the ABA’s staff is coming to a close, the association will continue to shape my legal journey. I am very proud of our dedicated, experienced, and innovative staff—over 1,000 individuals from a great variety of backgrounds. Their exceptional service is the backbone of the association and enables us to achieve our important goals. Thanks to them and our member-leaders, the future of the association remains bright, and the ABA’s commitment to defend liberty and pursue justice will continue for a long time to come.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.