Civil rights advocates are criticizing Attorney General Dick Thornburgh's choice of William Lucas, a black lawyer, to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, saying the key job needs someone with more experience.

"We're terribly disappointed," said Julius Chambers, the director-counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense Fund.Lucas, a Democrat-turned-Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the governorship of Michigan in 1986, was recommended Friday by Thornburgh to President Bush to become assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division.

Currently in private practice in Detroit, Lucas is a former New York City policeman, FBI agent, Wayne County, Mich., sheriff and Wayne County executive. He was born in Harlem, graduated in 1952 from Manhattan College and in 1961 from Fordham University's law school.

Lucas, 61, worked for the civil rights division in 1961-62, representing the Justice Department in Tuskegee, Ala., during the desegregation of the local schools, the department said.