It is sad that this is news - I have been an advocate for some time of widening the pool of partners beyond legal staff. It can only be a good thing - a different perspective, and different background leading to, hopefully, a better decision-making process.
As a former general manager, I am, however, a little saddened that it is often HR Directors who make the leap. I can understand it - and in no way suggest that Yvonne Hardiman did not deserve her promotion. HR Directors are, of course, intimately involved in the selection of lawyers at all levels, but in particular in the identification, selection and promotion of partners, and so are well known to the existing pool. I'm sure, too, that experienced HR Directors have strategic decision making experience, skills and knowledge.
Wouldn't it be wonderful, however, that a real generalist was promoted? Someone with strategic experience of running an organisation rather than a part of an organisation. Someone who has been specifically trained for the role of running a firm. Dare I say it - someone who has worked in a different industry and has leadership experience.
Perhaps that would be a step too far and that we reformers should be happy with the move away from all-lawyer partnerships. We should celebrate Yvonne's achievement and encourage other firms to take a similar step.
I will, of course, also point out that the elevation to partner status is more to do with the ownership of the firm rather than the management of the firm (see here for a longer discussion of the need for separation of ownership and management). I am sure, however, that there can only be a positive impact on the strategic understanding of the firm.
Well done to Pictons!