MSBA President 2020-21 Dyan Ebert: Steady as She Goes


An experienced leader takes the helm in uncertain times

By Amy Lindgren  
Photos by Stan Waldhauser

If you’ve had occasion to ask Dyan Ebert what she’s planning for her year as president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, you may have heard something like this: “I don’t have one specific thing that I want to get done. I am trying to go into this with the old adage, ‘Do no harm.’”

When incoming leaders say things like that, it’s easy to imagine they’re punting until they can put together an actual agenda. When Dyan Ebert says it, having already led six other organizations, it sounds like the voice of experience talking. As another old saying goes: This isn’t her first time at the rodeo. (For a look at Ebert’s other leadership roles, check the bio box sidebar.)

Indeed, given the very uncertain pandemic road we’re on, the refusal to set detailed goals looks almost prescient. Instead, Ebert says, she’s going to do her best to follow the strategic plan that’s already in place, while helping the bar association dodge any monkey wrenches the coronavirus may throw at its members. Some of the areas she’s keeping an eye on include wellbeing for attorneys—“We have to put that at the forefront, to put out resources to help the members”—as well as access to justice, which is facing new challenges in an age when lack of broadband access could literally disconnect clients from the justice system. 

As luck would have it, Ebert is no stranger to working remotely in the legal system. Although her litigation practice representing organizations in issues of employment and liability for the St. Cloud firm of Quinlivan & Hughes has traditionally been conducted in person, she’s also been arguing before the Minnesota Court of Appeals for decades—a process that frequently happens with the attorneys in different locations than the appeals panel.
Even so, she finds herself on a learning curve with everyone else relative to remote technology. Now, by necessity, she’s using virtual platforms such as Zoom and Webex to conduct interviews for her employment investigation work, and to take depositions and participate in mediations as part of her litigation practice.

Ebert plans to expand on this budding expertise over the next year, as fellow bar association members rely more on remote technology for CLE training and for delivering legal services. “The great thing is that the bar association as an organization has always been pretty technologically savvy,” she says. “Now we’re going to have to be much more nimble about providing what members need. We’re really paying attention to things like getting more virtual CLEs available—things that are valuable and timely, and that people can access from home.”

Ebert counts herself as one of those MSBA member attorneys who is under the gun to master new skills and strategies in the face of covid-19. “It does affect me,” she says of our present situation. “It is my livelihood. The people in leadership roles at a volunteer organization have a vested interest because this is our life too. And at the heart of it is the need to serve the clients and get them legal access.”

When Ebert says the current uncertainties affect her too, she’s speaking not only as a practicing attorney, but as a business operator. Having started with Quinlivan & Hughes (under a slightly different firm name) in 1994, she quickly became a shareholder, then joined the board less than a decade later, before serving as the 83-year-old firm’s first female CEO from 2003 to 2010, and again from 2014 to 2019. By some perspectives, she has not only led the organization, but helped shape it for the future.


Laura Moehrle, a former shareholder at Quinlivan who recently left after she was appointed a district court judge in Stearns County, practiced at the firm for 15 years. In that time she observed Ebert as someone who “leads from a sense of service. She’s been the figurehead of our office for a long time, standing front and center to congratulate everyone on a job well done. We were growing and evolving the whole time I was there and Dyan was a big part of building that culture.”

Moehrle also describes Ebert as a mentor, a dimension she experienced even before she went to work at the firm in 2004. “Of all the people I’ve had the pleasure of being mentored by,” Moehrle says, “Dyan got a 10-year head start because I met her when I was in high school.” The school was Apollo High in St. Cloud, where Ebert has managed an annual  mock trial tournament since 1994, also serving as a coach during the years Moehrle was enrolled there. 

When Moehrle made the transition from student to lawyer, she became a colleague of Ebert’s in more ways than one. Before she knew it, her former coach had “encouraged” her into volunteering for the mock trial program as well. “I call it being ‘voluntold,’” Moehrle says with a laugh. Eventually she was able to transition some of the coaching to another attorney, leaving her to partner with Ebert on coordinating the invitational every January. It doesn’t surprise her that Ebert has stayed with the program for 25 years, despite her growing obligations. “Dyan’s a mentor, she’s a litigator, she’s a teacher. It’s a really good fit for her. I think over the years it just etched itself on her heart.”

Ebert probably wouldn’t disagree. Having grown the program from six or seven St. Cloud teams to 32 teams that come from around the state, she enjoys seeing more students involved every year. “I’m a big fan of the civic education component,” she says. “It’s a great way of sharing with kids what our lives are like and what’s important about having legal representation. What’s neat about mock trial is that the kids see the whole justice system—the judges, the attorneys, the witnesses—and they get to see how things mesh together. It’s just a rewarding program all around.”

If civic education comes easily as a priority for Ebert, it may be an inherited trait. Both of her parents were educators in the small town of Luverne, Minnesota, where they raised Ebert and her three siblings. Rose Carroll worked with special education children, while Laurin Carroll taught high school math and coached the boys’ basketball team. Theirs was an athletic family, with uncles and cousins also serving as coaches and Dyan’s siblings becoming athletes as well. 

As the third child, she made the decision to break away from the family sport by playing volleyball instead of basketball. It was something her younger brother, Anthony Carroll, remembers well, mostly for the success Dyan achieved. “I remember when Dyan’s team went to the state tournament,” he says. “Not long before that, my dad and my brother ended up leading the boys’ basketball team to State. Just to have my sister have that success too added another level of excitement. It was pretty cool.” 

Anthony now lives in Seattle, where he recently left a 23-year corporate career with Starbucks to open a franchise (Mr. Appliance of Central Seattle). It’s the kind of leap he’s been able to run past his older sister over the years, gleaning her advice and support—skills he believes she honed on the volleyball court. “Dyan was the setter on the team,” he notes. “They facilitate and make others on the team successful. That’s always been pretty important to her, to help others. She’s the one taking the serve or setting up the pass so someone else can get the glory, so to speak. I always think about that with Dyan.”

Ebert herself downplays the achievements of her Luverne Cardinals volleyball team, pointing out how quickly their championship run ended. She does recall the fun of eating at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant for the first time and learning to play Skee-Ball during the team’s brief sojourn in the Twin Cities. She also carries souvenirs from her playing years, in the form of broken fingers that needed surgery and a bone graft from her wrist – on her non-dominant hand, fortunately.

When Ebert wasn’t studying or playing sports, she was likely to be working, according to Anthony. “We were always a family that valued work,” he explains. For the two boys, that meant helping their father with his summer lawn-mowing or painting businesses. But Dyan wasn’t drawn to outdoor labor, which her parents must have noticed: “I vividly remember when we heard the Dairy Queen was going to be opening, my mom and dad basically told me to reach out to the manager. As the third child in the family, my parents were very keen on making sure I had a job for the summer. I think I was probably in the 8th grade.” 

Ebert kept that job for two years before switching to the grocery store that employed her friends. But not before facing one of the first ethical dilemmas of her working life: If a customer orders a hot dog on the exact night of Luverne’s Annual Hot Dog Night, do you make the sale or do you tell them about all the free hot dogs being given away three blocks down Main Street? Ebert won’t say how she solved the problem, but one can guess it honed her capacity for legal reasoning. 

Growing up in a small town requires kids to do a lot of walking and biking, until they manage to get their license or meet someone with a car. By a stroke of luck, one of Ebert’s best friends, Laura Beem, happened to be the daughter of a car dealer, and was allowed to borrow any used car on the lot. Sometimes it was a Ford Fiesta, which she drove with seven or eight friends crammed into the hatchback. Other times it was the Lincoln, handy for Sadie Hawkins’ Day dances and cruising on Friday nights. 

Beem, now an accounting director with United HealthGroup, remembers their friendship deepening through countless late night talks sitting in Ebert’s driveway after going to the movies or out for pizza. They would go on to share life milestones and regular get-togethers, including annual camping trips and New Year’s Eve dinners. That longevity is characteristic of Ebert, Beem says. “Her thing is lifelong friends, lifelong settings, a lifelong job that she’s grown up in. She makes connections to people.”

One of those people is her husband, Paul Ebert, who grew up in the same small town, just eight blocks from Dyan. A year older, he remembers noticing her congregating with the other teenagers on the steps of the elementary school across from his house. That’s where he decided to ask her out to the middle school dance. “I thought she was a cute girl,” he says now. That’s how Dyan ended up going steady with her future husband while still in the seventh grade—a relationship that has endured nearly unbroken to the present day. 

It helped, Paul says, that Dyan’s family accepted him instantly. “My brothers were 15 and 16 when I was born,” he notes. “So I was raised essentially alone after they left home. At my house it was quiet, but you go to her house and you had to yell to be heard.” You might expect parents to object to kids going steady at such a young age but Paul says he never felt any reluctance from Dyan’s mother and father. “They were around 20 and 21 when they got married,” he says, “so I think they probably understood that people start early sometimes. I always knew I wanted Dyan in my life.”

After graduating from high school, Paul headed to South Dakota State for a five-year bachelor’s degree in pharmacy science; a year later, Dyan left for Augustana College in Sioux Falls. They got formally engaged after her junior year, marrying in 1990. What followed was an unusually tumultuous period, given their later stability. While Dyan was pursuing her law degree at William Mitchell, Paul worked at a number of pharmacy locations, inspiring them to move several times to shorten the commutes. Eventually things settled down when Dyan was offered the job with Quinlivan and Paul took his current position as pharmacist at Kemper Drug in Elk River—an “old-time mom and pop store” just ten miles from the home they built in Big Lake.

Somewhere along the way, they had daughter Laurin (she’s 20 now, and applying for medical schools), and began a surprising tradition of family vacations: visiting St. John, one of  the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although Canadian fishing trips or a rustic cabin might have seemed more in keeping with their greater Minnesota upbringing, both Eberts say the nearly annual visits to this small tropical island (which is nearly 75 percent protected national park) have become an indispensable part of their family life. While Paul and Laurin enjoy snorkling and spend most of their time in the water, Dyan prefers to read a book on the beach in complete silence.

Dyan and Paul attend a number of sporting events every year, and have been season ticket holders for both professional and college teams. Going to basketball games, in particular, is a pastime they enjoy with another couple, Susan Holden and Brian Gaviglio, who both appreciate Dyan’s ability to analyze the players and explain the strategy. “If you have a question, she can tell you what happened and why,” Holden notes. “She’s does the clapping and the cheers; she’s part of the fun game experience.”

These are friends with whom Dyan shares more than a love of hoops. Holden, too, has served as MSBA president (2005-2006) and has faced Ebert across the table and the courtroom as opposing counsel (she is a partner at the personal injury firm SiebenCarey). Gaviglio, meanwhile, is a client, relying on Ebert as a key attorney representing members of the League of Minnesota Cities, where he serves as litigation manager for the insurance trust. Both have high regard for Ebert’s prowess as an attorney, while also noting the positive influence of her small-town upbringing.

“Dyan brings a unique combination to legal problems,” Holden says. “She’s a really good trial lawyer. That small-town common sense helps immensely when you’re presenting to a jury. She’s also a really sharp appellate attorney. You don’t always find that package in one lawyer. That just demonstrates the depth of her talent.” Gaviglio attributes Ebert’s straightforward communication style to her background. “She’s very, very genuine,” he says. “That’s the impression you get when you meet her. What I’ve found is that the most effective trial lawyers are themselves. Dyan is the epitome of that. She doesn’t talk down to a jury, doesn’t try to be an orator. That’s why she’s so easy to like and trust.”

Trust and likability, common sense and talent: Ebert is likely to need all these assets and more in what will undoubtedly be one of the most challenging years yet for an MSBA president. She’s already putting in 12-hour days, as her husband can attest since she’s been working from home. So this year’s success can’t hinge on longer hours. Gaviglio predicts she’ll call on another asset to meet the challenge: “Dyan is very adaptive. I have seen that as one of her strengths. I don’t know exactly how you prepare for the unexpected, but that’s what she’ll have to do.”

Indeed, Ebert is already adapting, despite the shock of leading a statewide organization from home. “I don’t think you can even imagine how surprised I am about the situation I am thrust into,” she says. Even so, she’s already begun to change her perception of what the bar can do for its members and to consider which new services might become permanent. “I can’t imagine that we’ll go back to where we think in-person is what we need to be effective,” she says. “At least I hope we don’t go completely back, because I think there is some value here. There are already a lot of good legal services being provided remotely.” 

Ebert also sees advantages to attorneys in greater Minnesota as more bar programs move online—even to the point of facilitating participation at the highest levels. “The strides we’re already making on using electronic processes might encourage more  people in greater Minnesota to throw their hat in the ring for leadership roles,” she predicts. “We want to hold onto what’s good from what’s happening to us. But I do hope we go back to being able to be together from time to time, because what the MSBA is about is relationship-building. That will be our challenge going forward.”

In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing Ebert didn’t have an elaborate agenda in mind for her year as president, and just as good that she has decades of leadership experience to help the MSBA navigate these tricky waters. 

Something’s cooking in Dyan’s kitchen  

While friends and family know that Dyan Ebert loves to cook, her husband Paul understands best the dividing line between enjoying an activity and fitting it into a demanding schedule. As he notes, “I’m the maintenance cook who makes sure we eat every day. She’s the events cook who kills it on special dishes.” Following are recipes for two of her signature offerings.

For the beach or cabin: Dyan Ebert’s Memorial Day shrimp boil

Picture yourself cooking outside over a wood fire or propane burner, or relaxing on the cabin porch with a book while your dinner bubbles merrily away on the stove. If you bring your ingredients already prepped, this meal nearly cooks itself. Ebert first encountered this classic southern dish on an MSBA trip to the East Coast more than a decade ago.


  • ½ cup Old Bay (or similar seafood seasoning) + 3 tbsp
  • 1 or 2 limes, cut in half
  • 1 or 2 lemons, cut in half
  • 2 onions, cut in quarters
  • 3-5 lbs. new potatoes or fingerlings, cut in half
  • 5 ears sweet corn, cut in thirds (frozen ears also work)
  • 1 lb. carrots and 1-2 stalks celery, sliced into chunks
  • 2-3 lbs. Polska kielbasa (or similar sausage), cut into chunks
  • 3-4 lbs. shrimp, uncooked (shell on, deveined are best)
  1. In a very large stock pot, filled 3 inches from the top with water, boil Old Bay seasoning, lemons, limes, onions, carrots and celery together for about an hour.
  2. Add more water to the pot, if necessary.
  3. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender (about 30 minutes).
  4. Add corn and sausage; return to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes.
  5. Add shrimp and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until pink.
  6. Drain water; pour boil mixture on butcher paper on table, sprinkle with more Old Bay and dig in!

For comfort food this winter: Gooey caramel bars

When you need to retreat, it helps to take something comforting with you. Gooey caramel bars might do the trick. While Ebert usually brings these (by popular demand) to family holidays and weekend trips with friends, they are the perfect accompaniment to a winter’s evening of binge-TV while waiting out social gathering restrictions.


  • 34 caramels (individually wrapped is best)
  • ¾ cup butter + 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet best)
  1. Make the crust: Combine ¾ cup melted / softened butter, flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, salt and baking soda. Press mixture into 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes; let cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Make the caramel topping: Melt caramels and 3 tablespoons of butter in microwave or double boiler. Once melted, stir in 3 tablespoons milk (will take awhile to fully incorporate). Pour caramel sauce over baked crust. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake an additional 10 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into squares.
  3. Enjoy. Best eaten with a slightly raised arm, to block the view of the exercise bike in the corner of the room.

To add spice when gatherings are possible again: Home-canned pickles

Dyan also enjoys canning a variety of vegetables, including pickles.  The “sweet garlic dill” recipe she uses is top secret and will not be shared, so don’t even bother to ask.  She adds, however, “When we’re able to gather again, I’ll bring the pickles and you can try them for yourself.” Something to look forward to; who’s bringing the hamburger buns? 


Just the Facts Bio Bits on Dyan Ebert


  • Raised in Luverne, MN by Rose and Laurin Carroll in a family of four children
  • Married to Paul Ebert, 30 years
  • Children: Laurin, 20
  • Dog: Josie, a golden retriever and her fourth dog named for women of the Wild West (Wyatt Earp’s wife in this case)


  • Juris Doctorate, William Mitchell College of Law, 1993
  • Bachelor of Arts, Augustana College, 1990
  • Luverne High School, 1986

Legal career

  • Quinlivan & Hughes, St. Cloud, MN, since 1994 (shareholder since 1998)
  • Judicial Law Clerk: Olmsted County, Rochester, MN, 1993-1994

Additional legal experience


  • No Fault Arbitration Panel, American Arbitration Association
  • Civil Justice Reform Task Force, Minnesota Supreme Court, 2010

Appellate law

  • 50+ cases handled in state and federal appeals processes

Administrative law

  • 150+ Responses to Charges of Discrimination filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunty Commission and Minnesota Unemployment Compensation appeals handled on behalf of employers

Alternative Dispute Resolution

  • 300+ no fault arbitrations and mediations handled on behalf of insurance companies and employers
  • Serves as party-select mediator in variety of disputes


  • Dozens of jury and court trials involving employment issues and claims of negligence, personal injury, governmental liability, and premises liability

Professional leadership roles (selected)

  • President, Minnesota State Bar Association, 2020-2021; Executive Council member since 2017
  • CEO, Quinlivan & Hughes, 2003-2010, 2014-2019
  • Secretary & Minnesota State Chair, Association of Defense Trial Attorneys, since 2017
  • Board of Directors, Minnesota CLE, 2012-2019
  • Secretary / Treasurer, 7th District Bar Association, 2002-2018
  • President, Minnesota Defense Lawyers Association, 2014-2015; Board of Directors, 2006-2016
  • Representative to MSBA Council, Minnesota Women Lawyers Association, 2006-2012
  • Alumni Board, William Mitchell College of Law, 2006-2009
  • President, John E. Simonett American Inn of Court, 2007-2008
  • President, Stearns / Benton County Bar Association, 2000-2001
  • President, Central Minnesota Chapter, Minnesota Women Lawyers
    Association, 1999
  • Executive Editor, William Mitchell Law Review, 1992-1993


  • AV Rated Attorney, Martindale-Hubbell
  • Minnesota Super Lawyer
  • Top 50 Women Attorneys in Minnesota, 2014

Civic volunteering

  • Coordinator, Apollo High School Mock Trial Invitational Tournament, since 1994
  • Board member, Central Minnesota Emergency Services Chaplaincy,
  • Volunteer attorney coach, Apollo High School Mock Trial Team, 1994-1999

5 additional facts about Dyan Ebert

1) She loves pizza in any form, from frozen to gourmet.

2) She can provide play-by-play analysis of basketball games, having served as the statistician for the high school teams coached by her father.

3) Friends say she suffers from minor addictions to cookbooks, picture frames, and kitchenware.

4) She enjoys an occasional butterscotch Dilly Bar, having recovered from early years working for the Luverne Dairy Queen.

5) Her father named her after a favorite actress, Dyan Cannon.