Karon Macdaniel Discusses the Value of the Ask

Karon Macdaniel became head of global privacy at AMD and an industry expert for a good reason: because she wanted to

Karon Macdaniel’s advice for lawyers who feel lost on their career journeys, be they firm-based or in-house, is simply to take a step back. “There are so many different opportunities out there and so many emerging areas of the law to try out,” Macdaniel says. “Senior leaders are often receptive to their lawyers taking on new areas, but you don’t know if you don’t ask.”

That phrase perfectly sums up Macdaniel’s career thus far. As director of litigation and global privacy at Advanced Micro Devices, Macdaniel has twice taken the initiative during her career to step into a new and developing area of law—not because she was asked, but because she recognized an opportunity. With responsibilities that to this day are heavily steeped in litigation, the lawyer has also become deeply versed in e-discovery and records management—and, at AMD, global privacy.

Karon Macdaniel, Director of Litigation and Global Privacy, Advanced Micro Devices Photo by Alfred M. Macdaniel, Jr.

Practicing in Texas, Macdaniel’s early litigation experience included the 2003 tort reform bill HB4, which placed a cap on noneconomic damages. “It was essentially a race to the courthouse before that legislation became law,” Macdaniel remembers. “I found the science and medical space interesting because my father is a physician, and it was a great experience early in my career before I moved to Austin.”

While doing product liability defense work in the Texas capital, Macdaniel realized that she needed more from her career. In 2006, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended and brought about drastic changes to e-discovery rules. Still an associate, Macdaniel perceived that the reset button had essentially been hit on e-discovery and records management and that every lawyer’s number of years in the field was now suddenly the same.

“You were no longer looking at senior partners who had twenty years of litigation experience who would always be ahead of you,” Macdaniel says. “Everyone had zero years of experience in this space.”

Macdaniel’s new area of focus landed her on e-discovery teams, traveling to and meeting with clients. It also landed the associate on the speaking circuit. “Being on the circuit as a fourth-year litigator is almost impossible, but because I was at the forefront of this area, I was able to really start building it as my area of expertise.”

Practicing within records management and e-discovery at a large firm still provided a lot of ebb and flow to Macdaniel’s work process. “We had high rates, and clients often did not want to spend so much on records management and e-discovery programs,” Macdaniel says. “I started talking to people I knew who had gone in-house and thought it might be worth trying out.”

“From marketing to IT to contractual issues, I’m who you talk to about privacy.”

A former colleague had come to AMD a year prior, and Macdaniel, having left the aforementioned large firm and commenced working with clients as a solo attorney, started doing contract work for the semiconductor company. Based on her performance, she was offered a full-time position in 2010.

Early on at AMD, Macdaniel was working on litigation matters almost exclusively, but she found it rewarding in a way she hadn’t previously experienced. “What I found so refreshing about in-house work is that you’re not pigeonholed into any specific [type of] litigation,” Macdaniel says. “At the time, it could be anything from breach of contract in Sweden to a tax case in Korea.”

While her plate was certainly full, Macdaniel kept hearing a few lawyers at AMD discussing privacy issues, and the lawyer slowly became convinced that privacy might be yet another burgeoning field in which she could get involved early on—not out of obligation but out of curiosity.

“Working on litigation matters, I observed how increasing volumes of electronic data held by companies could create conflicts over who [managed that data] and how that data was used, which in turn sparked an interest in privacy. I eventually asked if they would be interested in me becoming the point person,” Macdaniel says. “They were happy to have a point person, and little did I know what I was actually agreeing to take on.”

“I wouldn’t be able to come to work somewhere if I didn’t enjoy the people I work with … Being given the opportunity to pivot into different areas has been amazing.”

Just three years into her new responsibilities, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) dropped. “We knew it was coming, and I had immediately started working with our outside counsel to get compliant,” Macdaniel says. “Now, from marketing to IT to contractual issues, I’m who you talk to about privacy.”

It’s not just GDPR that keeps Macdaniel busy in her global role. “There was a marketing campaign in South Korea, laws to navigate in Singapore, and now the California Consumer Privacy Act, which could fundamentally change the way states and the federal government handle and regulate consumer data and privacy.”

While global privacy may seem like a full-time job, Macdaniel still spends the bulk of her time as head of all non-IP-related litigation. The lawyer says that both the variety of work and the people at AMD are what have kept her at the organization for so long. “I wouldn’t be able to come to work somewhere if I didn’t enjoy the people I work with, and I consider that an accomplishment on AMD’s part,” Macdaniel says. “Being given the opportunity to pivot into different areas has been amazing.”