"Dear Managing Partner," the letter to 17 law firms began. It proclaimed the new status of lame duck Republican congressman Chuck Douglas.

It stated: "Having just been defeated in an upset race for re-election to Congress, I am now looking to renew my life in the law. As a member of Congress grandfathered under the existing rules of ethics, I may begin any representational activities without delay or denial of access to the floor or committee staff. ... Feel free to contact my staff legal counsel ... if you have any questions."

Every two years, the revolving door whirls on the Hill and along Pennsylvania Avenue as lawyers answer the lucrative call to private practice. This season, with new prohibitions on lobbying set to take effect Jan. 1, the door was expected to revolve even faster. Still, no one recalls a lawyer-turned-legislator seeking the exit quite so baldly.

"Gauche," sniffed one managing partner who received Douglas's missive. "The word that comes to mind is, ah, tacky," said another lawyer. "I don't wish him any ill will," said a partner at another firm, "and he can have any career he wants in the law. But I don't think it will be with us."

While touting his timely loss as a way to beat the tough new lobbying ban, Douglas, a former New Hampshire Supreme Court justice, still made liberal use of his current status. He sent the job-search letter on eye-catching congressional stationery and mailed it at taxpayers' expense.

Despite the letter's trappings, some managing partners weren't sure who Douglas was. But that seems fair. Douglas didn't know who they were either. Instead of writing to them by name, he sent all of the letters off with the greeting, "Dear Managing Partner."

James W. Jones, who heads Arnold & Porter, joked that he's not used to getting job queries "addressed to occupant." The letter, he said, "was a little stark." But Jones's assessment was more charitable than most.

The head of another firm said he was "offended by this hawking of influence," and then wondered, with some amusement, just how much influence Douglas has to hawk.

"It would be one thing if Jim Wright did this," he said. "But this guy is a one-term congressman who managed to get defeated in a year when 97 percent of incumbents were reelected. Who the heck does he think he's going to influence?"

The letter, according to Douglas's legal counsel Roy Kime, went to 10 of Washington's largest firms and seven Boston firms with D.C. offices. But the response has been rather slim. "Actually, you're it ...," said the nonplussed Kime last week.

Douglas, a Republican freshman known for his tart tongue, his ultraconservative votes and a knack for offending everyone from fellow congressman Barney Frank to White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, was one of a handful of incumbents to lose on Nov. 6. He was defeated in a New Hampshire district that had not sent a Democrat to Congress since 1912.

Kime said Douglas certainly didn't mean to offend anyone or to flout the new lobbying ban -- which prohibits former members of Congress from lobbying their ex-colleagues or Hill staffers for a year -- as he tried to turn defeat at the polls into victory on the job market.

"It was just a statement that he wouldn't be restricted by that new law," Kime said. As for the franked mailing, Kime said it must have been a mistake, adding that he plans to send a reimbursement check to the franking commission.

One managing partner omitted from Douglas's list, Timothy May of Patton, Boggs & Blow, said he felt "neglected." Still, he had one job-hunting tip for Douglas -- tell the world of his apparent feud with Sununu. "That's a great credential," May said. "This fellow's not all bad. You can judge a man by his enemies."

While his job search in Washington continued, Douglas was traveling last week in the Far East and could not be reached for comment. His legal aide Kime had this to say of the letter: "It was not done to raise eyebrows. It was to get him a job. He needs a job." Divorce, Law Firm Style

The much-rumored split between 200-lawyer Dow, Lohnes & Albert son and the D.C. office of Ingersoll and Bloch is now official. The merger lasted less than a year, and the two firms declared Friday that they will go their separate ways. (The marriage was never consummated. Ingersoll and Bloch didn't even move in with Dow, Lohnes.)

Dow, Lohnes managing partner Daniel W. Toohey said the reasons included client conflicts and differences in big- and small-firm cultures. Still, many domestic squabbles relate to money. Could expectations of income from the smaller firm have been a little too high? "Those were close enough not to be a serious factor," Toohey said. Ingersoll could not be reached for comment. On the Move

Former U.S. attorney Joseph E. diGenova must be loving it. While Maryland Republicans are raising his name as a possible U.S. Senate candidate in 1992, he is being courted by at least two major firms: Hopkins & Sutter and Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phillips. Both have big D.C. offices, the latter headed by Charles T. Manatt, former Democratic National Committee chairman.

DiGenova, who probably will skip that Senate race, is leaving Bishop, Cook, Purcell & Reynolds, following its merger with Winston & Strawn. Client conflicts forced him to opt out.

White-collar crime specialist Richard Ben-Veniste, of Watergate prosecution fame, is leaving his own tiny firm to join New York's Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The high-profile Ben-Veniste will head the firm's burgeoning litigation department in Washington and boost its white-collar capabilities. One of Ben-Veniste's current partners, Peter D. Isakoff, joins Weil, Gotshal too.

Rockville Switch

Neal Potter's election as Montgomery County Executive has touched off a scramble for the post of county attorney. Clyde H. "Rocky" Sorrell, in charge for the past three years, has joined Hogan & Hartson in Bethesda.

Leading candidates for the job include Michael J. Algeo, a senior assistant in the county prosecutor's office and Potter's campaign treasurer; former Maryland senator Victor L. Crawford; and Stephen Z. Kaufman, of Linowes & Blocher. Etiquette Supreme

Advocates who appear before the Supreme Court begin their arguments: "Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court." Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell started out that way at an oral argument last week, but managed to displease one member of the court -- Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist -- when he addressed him several times as "Justice Rehnquist."

"I'm the chief justice," Rehnquist chided Lowell.

Rehnquist can get pretty prickly on these points. In the past, he has criticized lawyers who addressed a justice merely as "judge."

The rule, for those who find themselves in Lowell's shoes, is this: The other members of the court are properly referred to as justice so-and-so. But Rehnquist (sorry chief, no titles here) is the only chief justice of the United States and is to be addressed as "Mr. Chief Justice."