Meet Johanna Clyborne: 'Every day I learn new things'

Why did you go to law school? 

I knew I needed an advanced degree, and law caught my interest. I didn’t know whether I would practice law or not, but I figured with a law degree I could do pretty much everything I could with an MBA—but with a few more options. 

Much of your career has been tied up with military service, and you hold the distinction of being the Minnesota Army National Guard’s first female brigadier general. Is military service a tradition in your family? Did you intend to make a career of it when you entered?

My father was a Vietnam veteran who retired from active duty after 27 years of service. Experiencing active duty military life first-hand and living the challenges of a loved one living with PTSD, I swore I would never join the military or marry anyone in the military. Well, don’t swear “never.” I did both. There is no way Private Wivell could have ever envisioned being where General Clyborne is now, 29 years later. It’s not been easy. Balancing a law firm practice, military duty—which is often just as demanding—and a family has been a challenge over the years, but looking back, I would not change the path I took.

Last year you served as commissioner of information technology for the state of Minnesota, and your bio noted that cybersecurity was a priority in your National Guard service as well. What led you to become interested in cybersecurity?

As an Army officer, at every rank, you study war and its evolution. As technology and society advances, it changes how you look at war. The sheer beauty and simultaneous challenge of cyberwarfare is that it is asymmetric. During my deployment to Iraq, I became fascinated with the concept that a non-peer adversary could find and exploit small holes in the massive defenses of a country that they could never defeat on the traditional battlefield. The military also taught me to appreciate that not all cyberattacks are similarly motivated, which I believe is essential to thinking about how our government and industries (and our own legal practices) might address those threats.
No matter how diligent we are, cyber threats are not going to go away. On the contrary, because of our dependence on and use of information systems, and the rapidness with which technology evolves, it will continue to proliferate at a dramatic rate. This means that cybersecurity will need to be a discipline that everyone in our country takes seriously, not just our military. 

You’ve done an enormous amount of volunteer work with a number of organizations, including your service as chair of the MSBA Military and Veterans Affairs Section. What have you gotten out of your professional involvement in the bar, and your volunteer work more generally?

I have always felt that for those to whom much is given, much is expected in return. I have been blessed in so many ways. We all have ways that we can contribute to our communities. I also believe that, as a member of a profession, you need to belong to those organizations, such as the MSBA, that support you in your profession. I definitely feel like I get far more out of volunteering than I give. Every day I learn new things, positively impact the lives of people in our communities, and have developed an incredible support network of friends and colleagues along the way. I am a better attorney, a better leader, and a far better person because of the volunteer work I have been involved in. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Wait, you can do things other than work? I love to read—something I plan to do more of now that I am down to having only two jobs. I enjoy traveling, and those who know me know I am a huge Disney fanatic. I love running Disney races. Currently, I am a Perfect Dopey runner. 


Johanna-Clyborne-150JOHANNA CLYBORNE is a partner of the Shakopee-based law firm Brekke, Clyborne, and Ribich, L.L.C., where she focuses on family law, military pension, and federal benefits. She is a frequent presenter and author on military family law matters. Johanna has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and a member of Minnesota Top Women Lawyers. She also has served her state and nation for the past  29 years in the military. Johanna currently holds the rank of brigadier general in the Minnesota National Guard and is serving as the state’s deputy adjutant general.