THE AMERICAN BAR Association won't play Mr. Nice Guy for President Carter any more as a result of his charges in May that the legal profession defends the privileged and ignores its responsibilities to the public.

For the first time, the ABA - which represents more than 225,000 American lawyers - has begun challenging a sitting president directly and by name on the policies of his administration regarding the administration of justice and the provision of legal services.

To lend emphasis to the changed ABA attitude, the first shot was fired by an Atlanta attorney who is a friend of Carter's, ABA President William B. Spann Jr. He said in a letter to Carter and key members of Congress that the President should personally take a hand to break a congressional log jam over expanding the number of U.S. court judges.

A few days later ABA President-elect S. Shepherd Tate added another challenge. He told the D.C. Bar Association that President Carter should throw his weight behind an ABA proposal to establish a federally-funded public corporation that would pay attorneys to represent defendants in state and local courts who can't afford to hire their own lawyers.

Tate said he and other ABA officials had outlined the proposal to Carter's aides in a White House meeting. "As they say in tennis," Tate told the D.C. Bar, "the ball is now in the President's court."

This type of direct challenge to a president would have been unthinkable for the ABA before now. Previously, the association took a low-key approach in public statements regarding a presidential administration, and refrained from any direct challenges to a president.

"We are calling for more leadership on those things he is interested in," said Tate. An ABA staff member in Chicago put the new policy even more bluntly: "Let him put his money where his mouth is."

For its part, the White House indicated it believes the President's speech was misinterpreted by lawyers who only read press accounts. So it asked the ABA Journal to print the complete text of Carter speech, "apparently in the belief that it would not be as offensive as the parts selected for use in news accounts," the Journal said in an editorial.

From the ABA Journal's editorial, it is clear the full text didn't change its mind.

"The Carter speech," it said, "is a mishmash of platitudes, misinformation, hit-and-run statistics, ringing but empty rhetoric and unnecessarily strident and broad charges."

Incidentally, both Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter have turned down invitations to address the ABA convention in New York next month. Instead, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), sometimes mentioned as a possibly rival of Carter in 1980, will speak to the ABA's opening convention. Politics wasn't involved in the Kennedy invitation, ABA officials said. He was picked because he is expected to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year.

Monroe H. Freedman, a strong voice on the D.C. Bar's Ethics Committee, is running for executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union and plans to rem*ain in New York. Opposing him in the September election by the ACLU's board is Ira Glasser, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties. The ACLU also has a search committee out, but so far they are the only two candidates.

John H. F. Shattuck, director of the ACLU's Washington office, has been mentioned as a candidate to succeed executive director Aryeh Neier, who resigned, but he decided against it.

Freedman had left Washington to become dean of Hofstra Law School. He resigned that post a year ago, but remains on the faculty there.

It's splitsville among the legal clinics. The partnership of Bates and O'Steen, the Phoenix legal clinic responsible for the law suit that led to the historic Supreme Court decision overturning bans John R. Bates has started a news business making do-it-yourself legal kits while Van O'Steen is staying with the clinics. Which makes it hard to refer to the advertising decision as the Bates Case since Bates no longer has anything to do with the clinics.

Closer to home, Ronald Sharrow is breaking off from the Baltimore-based legal clinics of Cawley, Schmidt & Sharrow. William (Rick) Schmidt III and Linda C. Cawley are continuing the operation.

No Perry Mason type commercials, but otherwise there's nothing wrong with lawyers running ads on television, the American Bar Assosiation's Commission on Advertising has found. The commission will recommend to the ABA's policy-making House of Delegates next month that its model Code of Professional Responsibility be changed to allow TV commercials by lawyers.

Last year the ABA expressed fears that TV advertising would demean the profession and mislead the public. Nonetheless, some firms have run TV commercials, and a few states, including Maryland, voted to allow it.

The only restrictions recommended by the ABA's commission would ban lawyers from about how good they are - the very type of commercials that ad agencies think are so good in selling soap.

Short takes: Three Washingtonians named to the ABA's special task force on legal problems of the elderly: Erica Wood, an attorney with the National Council of Senior Citizen's Legal Research and Services for the Elderly; Edward F. Howard, counsel of the House Select Committee on Aging, and Arthur S. Flemming, director of the Civil Rights Commission and former commissioners of the Administration on the Aging and former Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Former U.S. Sen. Frank E. (Ted) Moss has opened a Salt Lake City office for his Washington firm, Moss, Frink & Franklin. Robert D. Dennis, a partner; Dwight B. Williams and Gregory M. Hansen will man the Utah Office . . . Paul D. Cullen, former assistant counsel of Corning Glass, has joined the firm of McCandless & Barrett as a partner.