Steven Brill, the editor of American Lawyer magazine, announced yesterday that his company has bought Legal Times, a weekly trade publication based here.

Brill has been buying small legal newspapers across the country and had announced his intention to start a legal publication here. Yesterday, he said he plans to concentrate Legal Times' coverage on the District.

Legal Times started in 1978 as a local publication called Legal Times of Washington but expanded its scope to national coverage several years ago, dropping Washington from its name. With a paid circulation of about 6,000, it was by far the smallest of the three nationwide legal publications. The other two are the monthly American Lawyer and the weekly National Law Journal.

"I don't think that worked," Brill said yesterday of the national focus. "We're going to make it cover Washington and Washington legal affairs much more intensively than it has."

Brill said Legal Times "is going to be a national newspaper, but it's going to be a national newspaper because it reports on what's going on in the nation's capital -- lobbying, the committees, the courts and the judiciary in Washington -- much more intensively than any publication in Washington."

He said the coverage will be "the full range of legal and quasi-legal affairs in Washington, D.C., whether that's someone applying for a zoning variance in the District or in Northern Virginia or it's someone lobbying the Treasury Department for a variance on an export regulation."

Brill declined to disclose how much AM-LAW Newspapers Corp. paid for the publication, which was a subsidiary of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., but a source familiar with the deal said the price was between $2 million and $4 million. Harcourt Brace retained ownership of the rest of its Law & Business division, which also publishes legal books and newsletters and runs seminars for lawyers.

Brill, who had discussed plans for a daily newspaper, said it was possible that Legal Times eventually would move to daily publication, but that it would "stay weekly for now."

Legal Times founders and co-publishers Stephen A. Glasser and Lynn S. Glasser, who will remain with Harcourt Brace, issued a statement saying, "In its first eight years of publication, Legal Times has built an enviable reputation for enterprise reporting on legal issues. We know that Steven Brill is committed to upholding that tradition." They refused further comment.

Brill's purchase of Legal Times casts doubt on plans by the company that owns the National Law Journal to start a Washington publication.

The Law Journal's parent company, New York Law Publishing Co., had discussed purchasing Legal Times with First Boston Corp., its investment bankers, but did not make a bid for the publication, according to New York Law Publishing Co. President James Finkelstein.

Finkelstein said, however, that Brill's purchase of Legal Times could change his plans to start a weekly newspaper in the District.