Washington may appear to be full of lawyers, but it is barely in the big leagues when it comes to the size of law firms.

Covington & Burling leads the pack here with 188 attorneys, and Hogan & Hartson has 146. Large firms, sure. But they rank 27th and 47th respectively in a listing of the nation's 50 largest law firms.

The clear victor in the size sweepstakes is Chicago's Baker & McKenzie, which employs 544 attorneys, nearly three times as many as employed by Washington's largest.

For years, the exact size of law firms was not the kind of material that was easily gathered. However, with the rise of newspapers about the law, attorneys can look at detailed charts that appear at least once a year ranking the firms in order.

The Washington-based Legal Times does a yearly listing of Washington's top 25 firms, and this year's chart appeared on June 9. The New York-based National Law Journal does the top 50 listing on a national basis, and its chart appeared in the Aug. 4 edition of that paper, which appeared last Monday.

Despite the widely held belief that New York firms tend to be the largest, the National Law Journal's listing shows that there is only one New York firm in the top 10 this year. It is the second largest firm in the country, Shearman & Sterling, and it employs 312 lawyers.

There are three Chicago firms in the top 10, three Houston firms, one Philadelphia firm, one Cleveland firm and one San Francisco firm in addition to the New York firm. All but five of the top 50 firms have Washington branches.

In fact, branches of out-of-town firms account for seven of the top 25 firms in Washington -- an indication of a growing trend on the past of out-of-town firms to open Washington offices, according to the Legal Times survey.

A total of 178 out-of-town law firms have branches in the District, according to the Washington paper, and they employ nearly 1,800 lawyers. Twenty of those firms opened their Washington offices in just the last year.

The survey also showed that four small branches of out-of-town firms closed here in the last year, and that one-third of the Washington branch offices owe their allegiance to headquarters in New York.

Nationally and locally, the fastest-growing firm is the Chicago-based firm of Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Geraldson. It added 50 lawyers overall last year to increase its size to 176 attorneys -- or 34th in the country -- and became the 25th largest firm in Washington by increasing its attorney staff here from 20 to 42.

According to the Legal Times, the fast-growing firm took in a lot of ex-government attorneys and hired lawyers from other firms to expand its energy and government contract capability. It has traditionally been a labor relations firm.

The top 10 firms in Washington and the number of lawyers they employ are:

Covington & Buring, 188; ;Hogan & Hartson, 146; Arnold & Porter, 144; Steptoe & Johnson, 121; Wilmer & Pickering, 121; Howrey & Simon, 120; Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn, 107; Morgan, Lewis & Blockius, 76; Akin, Gump, Hauer & ;eld, 75; and Kirkland & Ellis, 74.

While the surveys by the two papers ttended to focus on size, there was one additional interesting category included on the National Law Journal's top-50 chart. It was a listing of the starting salaries that are being paid to new attorneys hired by the firms directly out of law school.

Some of the firms are paying those new graduates $38,000 a year, they report.