After three stormy years, Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate special prosecutor and the first woman to serve as executive director of the American Bar Association, is moving on.

The selection of a woman in 1987 to head the normally conservative 360,000-member lawyers' group was considered extraordinary. Since that time Wine-Banks has been praised by some for her management sense and criticized by others for replacing top ABA officials, spending money for a private car to take her to and from work and using her clout to push for an investigation of a veterinarian she thought had mistreated her dog.

Wine-Banks said in an interview yesterday from her Chicago office that she was leaving because she felt she had achieved her goals and other opportunities were being offered to her.

"The people I respect and admire have shown enormous support for me and are deeply sorry that I have chosen to leave," she said, adding that controversy often follows those who press for change.

Wine-Banks, who resigned on Thursday, said she will remain at the ABA until at least September. The board of governors of the association will select a search committee to find a replacement.

"Some people disagree with her style," Anthony R. Palermo, the ABA's secretary-elect and a member of its board of governors, said yesterday. "It is forthright, flashy and perhaps more avant-garde than others might appreciate."

"I found her competent, loyal, dedicated and hard-working," said Palermo. "Did she have differences with people? Sure, we all do. My own view is she is a very talented person."

Glee Smith, chairman of the ABA committee that oversees personnel matters, said Wine-Banks spurred controversial management shifts. Those changes included resignations by such officials as the ABA's director of finance and its general counsel. Smith said he believed those changes resulted in improvements at the ABA.

"I'm sorry to see her go," said Smith. "She brought good leadership to the ABA."

ABA President L. Stanley Chauvin Jr. said that during her tenure Wine-Banks had improved the ABA's relations with international bar associations, streamlined the budgeting process, reduced the bureaucracy and "made great strides in opening up opportunities for minorities, women and young people."

Wine-Banks, general counsel to the U.S. Army in the Carter administration, left a job as deputy attorney general for Illinois to take the $200,000-a-year job with the ABA in 1987. But she was not happy with the pace of her salary increases, said two sources close to the board of governors. "There was always a misunderstanding," one source said. "She understood she would be making more, and the response was, 'We can't pay you more.' "

Nevertheless, she received two raises of about $10,000 each, the last in April when the board of governors was meeting in Point Clear, Ala. Wine-Banks was "disappointed," the source said, adding that she abruptly left the meeting and flew back to Chicago.

Wine-Banks said yesterday that she left the meeting because the board's business was finished. "Salary played no part in my decision" to leave, she said.

There were press reports last year that members of the ABA were unhappy with Wine-Banks because she had a chauffeur-driven limousine and because she had persuaded the Illinois attorney general's office to investigate a veterinarian who had treated one of her Dalmatians.

"It's absolutely false that I had a chauffeur. And I never had a limousine," Wine-Banks said yesterday, adding that a private car did pick her up in the morning and take her home in the evening. After complaints about her use of the cars, Wine-Banks leased a car, which she said was part of her contract with the ABA.

Executives of major associations often have a car and driver available to them, according to officials of other associations.

As for the Dalmatian episode, Wine-Banks said at the time that she was merely asserting her rights as a citizen. Several members of the board of governors said yesterday that the matter was never even mentioned at their meetings.

Chauvin said he considered the incident a "personal matter," adding, "It is ancient history. It's been talked about so long, the dog would have been put to sleep by now for old age."