James Woodrow Olsen, 59, a lawyer with offices in Suitland, died of a heart attack Wednesday while vacationing at Skyland on Skyline Drive. He lived in Hillcrest Heights.

Born in Valley City, N.D., Mr. Olsen served in the Pacific with the Army in World War II. He then earned a degree from Oberlin College in Ohio.

He also studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology and RCA Institute in Chicago and earned a law degree from Northwestern University.

After servants as a civilian communications engineer with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Hawaii. Mr. Olsen came to Washington in 1951 to work as a senior systems engineer for the Philco Corp.

He worked for a number of other firms here, including Cook Electric Co., and the Stelma field engineering services division, and was vice president of Continental Electronics Inc. before going into private law practice in 1964.

Mr. Olsen was a member of the D.C., Maryland and Illinois bars, the International Bar of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan, and was admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court and the Supreme Court.

He is survived by a brother, Carl D., of Wakefield, R.I.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy may be in the form of contributions to CARE Inc.