Presidents and congressmen come and go, lawyers remain. Washington is for lawyers what Arab deserts are for oil men or Paris is for haute couture.

Washington lawyers are insiders and middlemen. They are mercenaries of the fine print, purveyors of influence. Feisty and smooth, tough and caring, they advise and balance, restrain and sue.

In their offices, stately British oak blends with sleek Danish teak, and the peachy hues of decorator creativity run up against the somber blues of respectability.

The labels in this gallery of snapshots are ours; the selection was made by experts -- other lawyers. Prestige

Edward Bennett Williams is a philosophical prizefighter, a devotee of "contest living." At 62, he is the nation's leading defense attorney whose clients have included Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Jimmy Hoffa and John B. Connally. Richard Nixon has said that Williams could have saved him.

He owns the Baltimore Orioles and is part-owner and president of the Washington Redskins.

The last five presidents asked him to serve in the government. And asked why he resisted running for office, he says: "I think I'd find the race more attractice than the reward."

He says he's gotten into many cases he wishes he hadn't touched, but he cites Abraham Lincoln, "If you make a bad bargain, hug it all the closer."

He says: "Anger is an ignoble emotion, a terrible waste of your resources. It is one of the cardinal sins -- though not the worst. Pride is the worst -- a father of avarice, envy and anger."

Asked if he keeps a scoreboard on cases he has lost and won, he replies: "It's possible never to lose because on my scoreboard, you have a victory if you tax your body and spirit and intellect to the utmost any time you walk into a courtroom in a contest. I believe that to be true in every field of contest: sports, politics, law. In contest living you win or lose. It can be a most exhilarating form of life but it can rip you asunder if you become obsessed with how history records your efforts." Savvy

"I like to sit across the table to negotiate a contract, an agreement, a treaty," says Robert B. Washington Jr., his large, well-shaped hands weaving circles in the air. "I like the personal contact, and I like the intellectual satisfaction of putting together a project."

His projects include planning strategy for some half dozen foreign governments in their dealings with the United States, arranging a bond issue for the District of Columbia, negotiating a military base agreement and representing a bidder to conduct the D.C. lottery.

Washington is at ease with the power and the glory that his 80-hour work weeks have earned him. His midnight blue, chalk-striped suit is unquestionably tailor-made; his cufflinks are solid gold. The beige walls of his office display mementos of his student days at Harvard Law and as a frequent guest in the Carter White House. Mayor Marion Barry and D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy are his good friends, and he is a co-chairman of the Gary Hart presidential campaign.

Washington is 6'3" -- once a string bean of a basketball player who at 40 looks like a quarterback. He has warmth, a genial smile and a confident flow of well-chosen words.

"I want to be known as a first-class lawyer," he says. "I am committed to rigor." He is a man who likes to take risks, and, one is inclined to think, the force is with him. Influence

Clark Clifford says he has never committed an indiscretion in public life -- "but plenty in private life," he adds with a guffaw. "I have been meticulously careful."

He says, "The finest mental training is the life of a trial lawyer. You learn a degree of control you might not learn under any other circumstances. Every move and question are observed by the jury, and you want to conduct yourself in such a manner that you make progress with your case. You are on stage every minute."

He compares lawyering in Washington to a foot solider's march through a mine field: "He need make only one mistake and he gets some very important parts of his anatomy blown off."

Asked what he does when his advice is ignored, Clifford, 76, grins. "It's not likely to happen too often," he says. "Someone comes in with a need, and, ordinarily, a client is disposed to follow the recommendations of a counsel. If they choose not to follow your recommendation, it is their right."

Clifford's office is shouting distance from the White House; his name is a metaphor for the super-lawyer, a counselor to presidents. He served in the Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Carter administrations, including a stint as Lyndon Johnson's secretary of defense.

"I have had the best of both worlds," he says. "A private practice, but a move into the government if the call came." Smarts

"Tolerance for the unpredictable is the sine qua non for a lawyer -- as well as for a man who is married," says Jacob A. Stein, his well-modulated tenor filling his windowless office crammed with law books, 18-volume editions of 19th-century essays, and three antique desks.

Stein is a litigator; his practice is evenly divided between criminal and civil cases, and his specialty is white-collar crime. He also represents other lawyers -- mostly in disputes growing out of firms breaking up and legal malpractice cases.

"Lawyers are wonderful clients," he says. "They are aware how imprecise the practice of lawyering is and how hard it is to predict what will happen. Lawyers know something laymen don't know: You can't obtain results that are magic.

"I am entirely a courtroom lawyer. If you are away from the courtroom too long, it may affect the quality of your work."

Stein, 58, is a second-generation Washington lawyer. His father's shingle hangs in his office. "My father had a good practice but he hated controversy," he says. "He quit before I started. He couldn't stand people fighting each other -- but from that we have to extract a living. It's a sort of alchemy." Caring

Jan Marie Pederson is one Washington lawyer who does not conduct business over lunch in a classy restaurant. She usually munches a tuna fish sandwich at her desk, while on the phone.

For the past year or so, she has been spending her evenings trying to reach government officials in Abu Dhabi and Austria, India and Cyprus.

Pederson is an immigration lawyer who spends her time convincing third countries to permit the entry of Iranians so they can apply for visas at American consulates. Once, no West European country required visas from Iranians; now they all do, and sometimes a visa is granted only after many months and many phone calls.

Pederson speaks with scores of U.S. consuls in Europe and the Orient who have "unreviewable discretionary authority" in granting visas. She knows those who refuse every Iranian and those who are sometimes sympathetic.

Iranians, who make up half of her clientele, call her "a saint." They say they can call her at any time of the day or night and that she will always help. "Miss Pederson confirms my faith in humanity," one embittered Iranian said.

Pederson, 33, started her practice in 1977. She says she lives for the day her cleints get their U.S. immigration cards. From time to time she has accompanied her clients to get their cards and that on occasion she has broken down and cried. "They are so scared," she says. And she has tears in her eyes just talking about it. Feistiness

"I think I can help Satan," Kenneth Mundy says. "Maybe even Satan has redeeming qualities."

Mundy is a fast-talking, quick-witted defender of people accused of murder, corruption, medical malpractice and insurance fraud. The case he is most proud of handling was the one that broke the National Football League player draft on the grounds of antitrust laws.

"I prefer trials to the more mundane things -- like negotiations, representing corporations, tax law -- that lawyers making money do," he says. "You never get rich on criminal law."

Mundy began his career as a lawyer with the Federal Communications Commission, and he never saw the inside of a court until age 33, in 1965. "I left the government Friday, and Monday I went to court for the first time," he says. "I won 14 cases, one after the other. Then I tasted defeat -- two or three cases. If that doesn't render you impotent, you are ready for anything. I lost like any other lawyer. I didn't have wings on my heels." He says that in his 18 years as a trial lawyer, he has won about the same number of cases he has lost.

"I believe in the case I weave," he says."I won cases when I knew my client was guilty. I have no bad feelings because I lost cases when I believed my client was really innocent. It's not important what I believe -- what matters is if the jury believes." Wisdom

John Pickering is the white-haired, pink-cheeked, grandfather that corporations and fellow laywers go to for sage advance.

A native of Harrisburg, Ill., he began his Washington career in 1941, clerking for a Supreme Court justice. Since 1946 he has specialized in federal administrative law and litigation in appellate courts.

"It's a matter of temperament," Pickering says. "Split-second decisions are for trial lawyers. An appellate lawyer has the benefit of instant reply and can concentrate on the mistakes in the playing of the game that might require a replay. Some of us work better in a calm, reflective way."

He defines wisdom as "the ability to accommodate opposing points of view. But there are times when those points of view are irreconcilable, and that's what courts are for."

His favorite case began with a suit brought by environmentalists against his client: shipyards servicing oil tankers. He worked out a compromise in which the Department of Commerce was asked to step in by producing an environmental impact statement. "This sort of settlement makes you feel good." he says. "The shipyards were not shut down and the environment was protected. The lawsuit went away. It's the kind of thing I can tell my grandchildren when they ask me what a lawyer does. You remember cases like this because normally you don't get such a satisfactory solution."