You have to admit the idea of a roomful of lawyers dressed in red ball gowns somewhat redefines "power of attorney." Which was the whole point at the Hyatt Regency Saturday night.

The National Association of Black Women Attorneys (NABWA), marking its 15th anniversary this year, culminated its annual convention with its eighth annual Red Dress Ball. A forum for the presentation of scholarships as well as the finale to days of working and networking, the ball has become a symbol of unity and power for a group determined to assert its influence.

"The National Bar Association had a traditional spot for black women, which was as secretary," said Belva Newsome, who chairs the District rental housing commission and is president of the local chapter of the NBA's women lawyer's division. "In 1972, the NABWA was founded as a response to that."

Except for the errant gray or black velvet, red ruled at the Regency Ballroom -- in dresses of silk, satin and suede, and on everything from the dinner napkins to the heart-shaped Valentine's Day balloons. About 500 guests were seated at 51 round tables for dinner and entertainment by Tommy Bryant and the Giants of Sound.

Jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton -- honorary chairman of the event and himself a giant of sound -- was there to dole out advice, albums, champagne and kisses. "I heard about this; the women lawyers were giving deals to young women who wanted to be lawyers, and I wanted to be a part of it," he said. Hampton, who was honored with a citation for his participation and support, made a $2,500 donation to the NABWA scholarship fund, bringing his total contributions to $10,000.

Actor Blair Underwood, who plays entertainment lawyer Jonathan Rollins on the NBC hit "L.A. Law," also sent a buzz through the crowd. "They invited me to come down and I thought it would give me an opportunity to show my support for the legal profession, specifically black women lawyers," said Underwood, who brought along his parents and sister.

"He came especially for us," said Mabel Haden, the association's president. "He attended the luncheon today and took a part; he's quite an oldster to be 23 years old."

Haden, who is one of Washington's pioneer black women lawyers, elaborated on the theme of the convention: the pursuit of power. "I think the black woman could be the most powerful creature on earth if she knew her power," she said, adding that if black women would replace competitiveness with cooperation in the work place, greater gains would be made for all. "We still have the people who carry the message to the boss to try to make themselves look better. If they know how to work together, we could rule the world."

Ruth Hankins-Nesbitt, D.C. commissioner of public services, agreed. "We're concerned about what {pursuing power} can do for us," she said, "but the real power is the carrying on" for future generations. Hankins-Nesbitt, a 1950 graduate of the city's all-black Robert Terrell law school, lamented the rising price of a law degree. "It is really harder for young ladies to get into law school today than it was when I was in school because of the cost," she said, and she warned that today's aspiring attorneys must take advantage of every opportunity before them. "If you have not got out there and practiced, you have not made your contribution."

City Council member Wilhelmina Rolark, the association's founding president, said the group is "extremely important, because black women attorneys are still on the bottom of the totem pole in the field."

Constance F. Robinson, a first-year student at the University of Dayton, was awarded the $2,000 first prize. A teacher in the public school system for 22 years before pursuing law, Robinson said, "I think we'll improve the profession considerably ... Black women can make something out of nothing."

Awards of $1,000 each were presented to Margaret M. Charles, a second-year student at the Georgetown University Law Center; Frances H. Cuffie, also attending Georgetown; and Linda M. Frazier, a first-year student at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Ohio.