Many people dealing with bipolar might find themselves having to deal with lawyers for various reasons. Lawyers are an expensive but necessary part of modern life. To get one to do the work you want at a realistic price, remember these tips:

* Interview first. Have preliminary meetings with several lawyers before you choose one to handle your job. Most lawyers will give you a half hour of their time at no charge for an initial meeting.

Look for a sense of ethics, rapport, and good listening skills. Don't choose one just because he promises the largest settlement.

* Talk about cost early and often. In his book Taming the Lawyers (Silver Lake), attorney Ken Mendez advises asking what the attorney plans to do, how much time and money she thinks it will take, and what the hourly fee is. Don't just be compliant.

* Be thrifty with your attorney's time. Have your papers organized and don't engage in small talk. Have a list of questions you want answered in a single visit instead of two or three. Make your own photocopies because many add copying charges onto their expenses.

* Consider hiring a mediator first. In a divorce, a mediator could help a couple reach a settlement that an attorney would only have to review.

* Get a status report with your bill. If your case will take some time, get a report of activities with your bill and an analysis of the case. The lawyer will be more likely to control costs if work must be tied to money.

* Watch for big expenses and say you want to be consulted first. Experts writing in Family Money say a lawyer might want to order a land survey or models to demonstrate a point. Set an amount over which you have to be consulted, say $500.

* Ask about alternate arrangements. Some lawyers have a flat fee for simple wills, real estate closings, or uncontested divorces.

* Ask if unused portions of a retainer will be refunded to you. A retainer could be $3,500 up front, but hourly fees would be much less if the case is settled early on.