Antioch Law School, America's only law school that is also a working law firm, emerged in Washington during the early 1970s as an alternative to the conservative, tradition-bound law schools, and has in recent years represented thousands of impoverished Washingtonians and litigated major cases affecting the community.

Students and faculty won a sex discrimination suit against the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and have sued the D.C. government on such issues as Forest Haven, the institution for the mentally retarded, claiming that patients' rights are violated because of inadequate therapy and poor treatment.

Antioch students, who are taking a risk by not attending a traditional law school, have been applauded as "well-trained, well-supervised legal advocates who have not only benefited the community but been a great service to the court," in the words of John R. Hess, a Superior Court judge.

But the school has had a quarrel-some history since it was founded in 1972, with a series of internal conflicts swirling around its codeans, Jean Camper-Cahn and her husband, Edgar Cahn. Some of the disputes have arisen over substantive issues such as how to teach law students both in the courtroom and in the classroom. Others have had bizarre overtones, such as the incident in 1975 when the Cahns hired the Blackman's Volunteer Liberation Army to guard the campus. Students and faculty members protested and the Cahns removed the guards.

A prime example of the infighting at Antioch was a recent faculty protest to William Birenbaum, president of Antioch College and the law school. The faculty said they had been "slandered" by the school's deans, Jean Camper-Cahn and Edgar Cahn.

The faculty complained to Birenbaum that the Cahuns portrayed them, in an application for a grant, "as a . . . band of racist bigots hell bent on establishing an all-white faculty."

Birenbaum and Joseph Rauh, the man who made the motion on the Antioch College board to open the law school in Washington, say they have not lost faith in the school despite its problems.

"Anything as new and dramatic as this is going to be difficult to do," said Birenbaum. "How do you institute an idea as radical as this (clinical legal education) and put it in an oldline, uptight profession like the law, which is in a society that doesn't know itself, without taking the cutting edge of the idea," he said.

"A clinical law school was long overdue," said Rauh. "I know Antioch has problems but the principles are still valid - it was a brillant idea. The problems of personalities are much less important."

The school's turbulence has frequently made news, in part because of the participants' unusual solutions to their problems.

There is, for example, a contract between the administration and the faculty, the first ever signed at a law school. The contract, which includes clauses guaranteeing the faculty's right to a supply of yellow pads, emerged from the faculty's fear of the Cahn's "arbitrary and autocratic decisions," in the words of John Sizemore, one of the few faculty members who have been at the school more than two years.

Antioch Law School also has a contract - known as the Tripartie Agreement - with its students . "The students had to jump into the fray to protect themselves," said Allen McKelvic, a second year student.

Another unsettling problem for the young school occurred last Dececmber when the Cahns resigned, charging the faculty with "wanting a public works program for attorneys," and concluding "the school may have become so divided internally that it cannot take the next step. To invoke a mangled phrase we are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

The Cahns withdrew their resignation two weeks later without a clear explanation of their change of mind.

Observers from more traditional law schools say Antioch's troubles nave made them wary of starting or expanding their own clinical law curriculums.

More than two dozen students, faculty members and observers of the school, with few exceptions pointed to the school's reputedly brilliant codeans, the Cahns, as the source of its turmoil.

"The chaos, turmoil and conflict they (the Cahns) have engendered have continued unabated for five years," nine of the school's faculty members wrote to Birenbaum, the school's president. The professors attributed their resignations and the school's troubles solely to the Cahns.

The nine are among 36 professors who have left the school since it opened, Forty-nine persons, including 10 black professors, have been on the staff. Codean Jean Cahn is the only remaining black person on the faculty.

According to the precepts for the school, laid out by the Cahns, Antioch was to have had a large minority constituency on its faculty and student body. The school has succeeded in maintaining a student body that is a third nonwhite and a third female, according to the Cahns.

Jean Cahn said much of the faculty's displeasure with the Cahn's leadership stems from the professors' desire to stamp their own mark on the school and not simply teach there.

"They will come into faculty meetings and want to do this and that," he sai. "Then they'll get angry when we tell them that this school was created, formed, and approved by the board of governors before they got here."

"The disagreements pose major questions about the principles underlying a clinical education," said Edgar Cahn. "They are questioning our ability to effectively serve our clients and run a law school. A large number of our problems flow from the conflict between the need to devote time to the classroom and to our clients," he said.

The faculty-administration battle has demoralized the school, at the least, and left many students disillusioned with the "different" law school they tought they were going to attend, according to students, faculty members, administrators and persons who have evaluated the school.

"The school advertises itself as a different kind of law school and it gets really independent people to come here, hoping to do different things," explained Allen Mckelvie, a second year student.

"When people find out they can do anything but what the Cahns say they become resentful," he said.

He added that students felt the necesity for the Triparhte Agreement spelling out the school's responsibilities to them because they found limited facilities at the school, too few classes, including some required for taking the bar examinations, and occasionally, incompetent adjunct professors.

The school's graduates are, however, getting good jobs, and more than half pass the bar exam on the first attempt.

As of January, 90 per cent of the schools graduates were employed, according to the school, with some working at such prestigious places as Arnold & Porter law firm, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice Honor Program and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Antioch's first class of graduates had an 80 per cent pass rate for the D.C. bar exam after the exam was given twice, according to the school's job placement office. On their first attempt, however, those students had a 56.26 per cent pass rate as compared to a 61 per cent pass rate for students at the District's other law schools.

The class of '76 had a 58.97 per cent pass rate for the July '76 D.C. bar exam as compared to a 66.6 per cent average for all D.C. law schools.

Nancy Jones, a research assistant with the Syracuse Research Corp., who evaluated the school with David Reisman, a Harvard sociology professor, for the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, concluded that Antioch was giving a good quality legal education.

"It would be fair to say they (Antioch and its students) could have done more in the time they had (to develop clinical training)," she said. "But it is hard to say how much more they could have done given their desire for ABA accreditation," which is geared to evaluating academic law programs.

"In general I'd say the school is doing all right," Jones said. "Antioch students know the nuts and bolts of law on graduation that Harvard, Penn or Syracuse students don't know how to deal with."

Jones and Antioch has attained three goals in developing a clinical approach to legal education:

Antioch has determined 14 skills such as filing appellate briefs, that lawyers must master in order to graduate.

Antioch has created a system for evaluating its students' performance as practicing lawyers.

And the school has stuck with the clinical approach to educating lawyers even though it has had to dilute it with academic programs to insure ABA accreditation.

Antioch graduates, too, have judged, the school to be a success despite its internal battles.

"It is a very valuable education," said one graduate who asked not to be named. "But you have to put with a lot of stuff to get it."

"I expected more of Antioch," said another. "It could be so great but . . ."

John Kramer, assistant dean in charge of clinical education at Georgetown University Law School did not qualify his criticism of Antioch. He said Antioch is not accomplishing what it was designed to do because it is not distinctively different from other law schools in the country.

"They are getting lots of money, at least half a million in grants from Legal Services Corporation to do what many other law schools in the area are doing," said Kramer. He said that Georgetown students are able to take a curriculum of clinical training and classroom training similar to what is being offered at Antioch.

"It is too bad," Kramer concluded. "A clinical legal education is a very expensive kind of education and there are only so many sugar daddies around with big grants. If Antioch fails no other law school may ever get the chance to try the idea again."