They bought tickets to see the Bolshoi, and wound up with a second-string dance troupe in training. They went to the Moscow Circus, and instead of the famed Russian bears, they got performing pigs. They signed up for a first-class trip to the Soviet Union, blessed by the venerable American Bar Association.

They expected caviar. What they got was the makings of a lawsuit.

When nearly 700 attorneys flew to Moscow last month for what was billed as "the most meaningful legal interchange in Soviet-U.S. history," their expectations were understandably high.

But lawyers, it seems, are as vulnerable as anyone to the fiascoes that bedevil the rest of humanity. And apparently they are just as helpless. When things turned sour, they griped. They held meetings. They plotted how to turn each minor mishap into a cause of action. They hissed the dreaded word: lawsuit.

But no one cared.

What's more, when a small group of lawyers finally forced a showdown with Homer E. Moyer, the high-ranking ABA lawyer who had spawned the Moscow conference, they found themselves on the wrong end of the universal lawyer reply: You should have read the fine print. The ABA was not responsible, Moyer told them. It didn't handle the logistics.

So much for lawyer esprit de corps.

"It was one of the worst-planned tours I ever experienced in my life," Dallas lawyer Hugh Hackney fumed last week.

James Leon Faulkner, of Bakersfield, Calif., blames his colleagues at the bar. "I am a member of the ABA, and I would not have gone had I not thought it was sponsored by the ABA ...," he said. "Maybe at depositions we will decipher it."

Little wonder the lawyers thought they were going on an ABA tour. The conference invitations were addressed "Dear Colleagues," and were signed by Moyer, chair-elect of the ABA's section on international law. The conference letterhead was top-heavy with ABA brass, listing former, current and future ABA presidents.

For now, the lawsuits are only a threat. But the litany of complaints is real.

Excursions were canceled, and buses failed to appear. Missing luggage languished in a room at the airport for days. And when the lawyers paid for first-class travel, they were lucky to go tourist, if at all.

Just getting into the Soviet Union proved hazardous for two conference-bound lawyers and a law student.

They arrived without visas but with assurances that they would be met at the airport with the proper papers. An employee of the Seattle-based Center For International Cooperation, the company that sponsored the tour, showed up with advice rather than visas. He told them to go quietly with Soviet security guards. The guards whisked the women to a waiting bus and detained them overnight in a hotel -- one where the doors locked after slamming shut behind them.

"It was frightening," said law student Lisa Spells.

Not everyone got locked up overnight, and some of the lawyers interviewed said they had a fine time. But it was the little things that drove many of them wild. The tour brochure promised "home visits hosted by Soviet attorneys." For some, such hospitality never materialized. There was the touted symphony in the Great Hall of the Kremlin that didn't come off.

And then there were those dancing pigs. "Pigs do not replace bears," said American University law professor Tom Farer, who took most of the problems in stride. "They are decidedly unalluring, and decidedly less adept."

On a side trip to Leningrad, the Soviet guides announced that they had yet to receive any money, while the lawyers believed they had prepaid. "We were there to extend friendship and build bridges," said D.C. lawyer Barbara Bracher, who was mortified that the Soviets might be stuck for the money.

Now, back in Washington, the ABA's Moyer is concerned that the griping will obscure the conference's "remarkable achievements."

He is sorry about the travel problems, but he still says the ABA is not responsible. Nor it seems is anyone else. The back of the conference registration form "holds harmless" everybody who had anything to do with the planning.

Still, the troubled travelers are crying foul. "The ABA had its fingerprints all over this," said one of the most disgruntled. "Had it been a logistical success, you can be sure, they'd be taking the credit."

As it is, some members of the world's largest legal organization are taking a walk. Their wounded colleagues are astounded.

There should have been some fair way to handle the situation, one of the lawyers lamented. "But to insist they take no responsibility. It's the kind of thing a lawyer would say."

Personalities After seven years in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Betty Ann Soiefer, who headed the team that won drug convictions against Rayful Edmond III, turns her attention to new investigative ground as counsel to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee ... Causton A. Toney, former general counsel to the D.C. Office of Banking and Financial Institutions, joins Arnold & Porter as a partner ... There's talk of merger at Patton, Boggs & Blow and Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin, the marriage kind, that is. Dickstein, Shapiro partner Andrew P. Miller, former Virginia attorney general, is planning to marry Patton, Boggs attorney Penelope Sue Farthing.

But Does He Like Duck Hunting? Maryland House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell thinks Judge Robert L. Karwacki of the state's Court of Special Appeals is a fine person and a good judge. But that may not be enough if Karwacki wants the Eastern Shore seat on Maryland's highest court.

Karwacki and two real Shoremen -- Wicomico County Circuit Judge Alfred T. Truitt Jr. and Salisbury lawyer K. King Burnett -- are competing for the vacancy left when Judge William H. Adkins III retired. Seems Baltimorean Karwacki moved to the Eastern Shore in the mid-1980s.

Shore native Mitchell, a close ally of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, says the law set up a geographic system for high court seats. "So why should someone who just moved in have the opportunity to ... get it?" Mitchell asked. It's now up to Schaefer.

Footnote And now, for those who read Penthouse for the articles: Silver Spring lawyer and former Maryland legislator Luiz Simmons sounds off in the November issue against laws calling for job forfeiture and other stiff sanctions against those convicted of using even the smallest amount of drugs.

Penthouse called him after reading his views in the Christian Science Monitor. After some hesitation, Simmons decided, "Someday I can tell my grandchildren that I was in Penthouse. I don't have to tell them why."