One of the most closely held secrets in the Washington legal community won't be around to haunt lawyers anymore.

The U.S. Court of Appeals announced yesterday that it would end its long standing practice of secrecy and would begin making public in advance the names of judges who will sit on the three-judge panels who hear appeals in federal cases here.

Lawyers have complained for years - first among themselves and recently directly to the judges at a judicial conference - that the lack of notification of the names of the judges who will hear the appellate cases puts the attorneys at a disadvantage in preparing their oral arguments. Arguments are scheduled weeks in advance, but attorneys do not know the makeup of the panels until they come into court that day.

The judges have contended that the secrecy preserved the intergrity of the appeals process, and eliminated the possibility that some lawyers might seek delays in cases if they didn't like the makeup of the panel.

The new policy will give a one-week notification of which judges will hear oral arguments. The first panel, scheduled to sit today, will consist of U.S. Circuit Chief Justices J. Skelly Wright and Roger Robb.