Head of finance Simon Hall said McKinsey was appointed to help "develop a long-term strategy". Finance is the first practice to go under the microscope, but Hall said the pilot will produce a firmwide template.
Linklaters used management consultancy Bain & Co three years ago to advise on its Asian network, but since then the practice of using consultants has been out of vogue. As Freshfields' finance practice is by far the least developed of the magic circle.
According to The Lawyer 100 figures, Freshfields' global finance practice turned over just £152m, compared with £223.2m at Linklaters and £308.5m at Clifford Chance.
Freshfields' core banking practice is perceived as too small and borrower-focused. Historically, the firm has shunned vanilla finance work, although it belatedly realised that a certain amount is essential for banking relationships.
The move suggests that key management figures are now serious about putting more resources into finance.
Linklaters made a similar decision several years ago and has had considerable success in bolstering the size and profile of its finance practice.