Janie Simms Hipp, Class of 1984
United States Department of Agriculture
Q: Was there a particular experience or person that guided you to a career in the legal field?
A: I have shared with many folks in many public settings that I went to law school on a dare! I was headed towards a path in public administration but the lawyer for our agency “dared” me to go to law school. I had never considered a career in the legal arena(s), but he was my supervisor at the time, and I thought “maybe he has something…!” So, I took the LSAT on a dare, applied to law school on a dare, and here you go…
Q: Describe your work. What is a regular day like?
A: Packed with meetings back-to-back, usually in half-hour increments. Jumping from meetings with my various agency clients, the front office, the department leadership, and other lawyers in the federal government. But each of the jobs I have held as a lawyer have a different cadence and feel.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: The people. Always the people. Right now I am working with extremely committed and capable and dedicated and brilliant public lawyers who have dedicated their careers to advising the government on matters involving agriculture and food and all sorts of related issues. But I have held other positions where the people I worked with every day were law professors and law students. In other positions, it was farmers and ranchers (who are my favorite)! But it is always about the people.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges for the legal field in the future?
A: Keeping up with the rapidly changing needs of our clients – no matter who they are. The world is changing. Lawyers will have to run to keep up, while also maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards. We have many challenges ahead – no matter the field you choose to work within – and making sure we keep abreast of the rapidly changing worlds within which our clients must exist will be the biggest challenges of all.
Q: What advice would you give a young lawyer starting out?
A: Be open. Be a good person. Remember you don’t know everything. Find good mentors and stay with them. Be humble. Remember your family and friends. They are the ones you will always turn to when you need a break, need to recharge, need to rest, and regroup. Remember to keep them close. But also remember that your life will change over the years ahead. You will move, you will take new jobs, you will have ups and downs. Stay grounded.
Q: You were nominated by President Biden to be general counsel for the USDA. Tell us about the confirmation process and your experience.
A: Before my nomination occurred, I underwent a significant vetting process, which continued after the announcement of my nomination. The vetting process includes numerous interviews by the administration, background checks, FBI interviews, and a variety of financial and ethics clearances. After the public announcement of my nomination to serve, the focus then shifts to interactions with the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee is the committee of jurisdiction for the USDA. The Committee reviews all vetting, conducts additional interviews and background checks, and eventually interviews by Senate Agriculture Committee staff and the members themselves are held. The next step in the confirmation process is a public hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. My nomination then headed to the floor of the Senate for a vote. When the Senate voted affirmatively on my nomination, I was then considered Senate confirmed and was cleared for swearing in and my service as General Counsel began. I was sworn in by Secretary Vilsack a few days after the Senate vote and began work the next morning.
Q: As a member of the Chickasaw nation, how do you feel like your personal connection to the indigenous community helps guide your work?
A: I am constantly quoting Governor Anoatubby and our leadership within the Chickasaw Nation. We have many accomplished Chickasaw leaders in our history, and I am amazed how often I call upon my understanding of our history in my day to day work. The many challenges the Chickasaw Nation has faced and surmounted are lessons for living and serving. When I walk in my office at the USDA, I am greeted by a wall of photos of those who have served as General Counsel before me. I am the fourth woman to serve and the first Chickasaw citizen to serve in this role in one of the oldest federal departments.