Lawyers are usually consulted for mundane reasons, like the purchase of a home or the drafting of a will. Lawyers are great resources for anyone in business. Obviously, an individual's interactions with the criminal justice system is a serious occasion for legal consultation.
How does someone go about finding a lawyer to help them with their particular situation? I'm not sure if looking up a lawyer in the Yellow Pages is the best way (although we -- and many other lawyers -- advertise there). Perhaps the Yellow Pages can be a starting point.
I don't think lawyers should be hired just because they are of the same ethnicity (although if there is an english issue, a multi-lingual lawyer can be a good thing).
Hiring a lawyer should be an informational based decision.
Research on the internet, from google searches or reading a lawyer's blog is a great way to determine whether a particular lawyer has the right background (education, publications) to tackle the specific problem. It may be possible to find out the number of a lawyer's reported decisions at a particular court level.
Personal referrals are also a great way to find a lawyer. Testimonials are good, but present a one-sided view.
Some individuals prefer dealing with a firm. If a lawyer practices in a partnership, this gives some assurance that a client's matter will be dealt with regardless of the particular lawyer's availability.
An initial consultation with a lawyer can provide appropriate information. Questions should be asked about the lawyer's experience in the particular field and whether they have any particular expertise that is relevant.
I don't know if there are any more 'generalists' in the legal community. If I had a real estate issue, I would go to a real estate lawyer. If I had an immigration problem next, I wouldn't take it to the real estate lawyer (but maybe I would ask him/her if they had a recommendation). If I had a criminal issue, I wouldn't take it to a big corporate firm downtown; I would take it to a criminal lawyer that has represented clients before every level of court and someone that has at least 5+ years of experience.
The decision to hire a lawyer is an important one, with far-reaching consequences. Take the time to do some research, ask for referrals, and not be afraid to ask some questions.