LAW AND ORDER VIA CELL PHONE

He came highly recommended. Tom Davidson, as I'll call him, had all the right stuff - the right background, location, specialty. But shopping for a new lawyer would be no easy task.

After my attorney left his practice suddenly due to a heart condition, I needed to find a replacement. Over the years, my attorney and I had become friends. He knew what was in my wallet, my will, my thoughts. ''Replacing'' him was, of course, absurd. He would be a tough act to follow.Before we even met, Tom Davidson looked promising. If he was busy when I called, I'd get a message later that same day. He was clearly reliable.

When we finally spoke, it was early evening, and our phone conversation lasted roughly half an hour. I mentioned briefly the document I needed to have drawn up, and he suggested a few ideas.

I mentioned a neighborhood issue that had become problematic; he offered to make a phone call on my behalf. We discussed some legal questions about taxes, home ownership. Over all, our talk left me with a favorable impression.

Except for one thing. Tom was calling from a cell phone, and the conversation had a herky-jerky rhythm: One of us would say something, which was barely audible to the other. Our voices faded in and out. Factor into the equation the background noise Tom was competing against.

He was calling from what sounded like a busy restaurant or bar, with people chattering all around. When his phone battery started to give out, we ended the call.

What a mixed bag, that first talk. Here he was displaying yet again how diligent, how reliable he was. Too busy to call from the office, he was determined to reach me, no matter what. So there we were, attempting to have a serious introductory talk, with half our words garbled by static, noisy strangers, or a failing cell phone.

Sure, he won points for persistence. But weighed against the odd judgment of the entire call - the questionable setting, the constant disruptions - my impression was falling fast. Whatever value the talk may have had was ruined by its format.

The next week, we spoke again to set up an appointment. In many law offices, the initial visit is free of charge. To clarify this point, I specifically asked.

To my surprise, Tom said that he would be charging for the visit, since we'd already spent that half-hour on the phone. From his vantage point, we had decided to work together; from mine, I was willing to allow a second chance.

I decided then that there would be no such meeting.

In the end, this story may combine two cautionary tales in one: Had I not missed my long-time attorney before this episode, Tom Davidson would have made me miss him. One never wants to be the first date of anyone on the rebound. Still, Tom would never have made the cut, regardless of timing.

Then there's the question of cell phone suitability. Cell phones are great for information-on-the-run, for quick conveying of facts, and calls from places that have no other phone.

But these ubiquitous gadgets don't fare well for long or detailed talk, and they make no sense when real phones are at hand.

It's true that pay phones aren't as chic as their cellular counterparts. But whatever they may lack in cachet, they easily gain in coherence. In matters of the law, this would seem to be a plus.