For Arabs in Israel the one name that pops to mind when they run afoul of the law is Felicia Langer, a 47-year-old Polish-born Jew who has devoted the last 10 years of her legal career to defending Arabs in their battles with Israeli authorities.

She was the first person called by Sami Esmail, an American-born Michigan State University student of Palestinian descent who was accused the moment he landed on Israeli soil to visit his dying father of being a member of a Palestinian terrorist organization.

Thousands of other Arabs have also called on Langer to defend them when they get in trouble with Israel's tough emergency defense act, which governs their lives. Some are charged with curfew violations: other suffer the "collective punishment" inflicted on whole villages or families when one member is accused of violating the security laws.

Langer, for instance, has defended a father who was arrested when he went to court to protest the arrest of his son. She also represented a family who lost its home and whose well was covered over after one member was charged with - but not yet convicted or acquitted of - making bombs.

American attorneys who know of her compare Langer to the small band of courageous lawyers in this country who risked position and money to defend people accused of Communist learnings in the 1950s and who dared to challenge Jim Crow laws in the South before civil rights became a popular legal cause.

"Felicia Langer is very able, very bright," said Monroe H. Freedman, a New York and Washington lawyer, sympathetic to Israel, who is well known for his civil liberties activities and who has seen Langer in action in Israeli courts.

"I think of her as a close parallel to my friend Bill Kunstler," the American attorney who defended the Chicago 7 defendents in their conspiracy trial and has been lawyer to H. Rap Brown and JoAnn Little, among others.

Although many of her countrymen regard her with distain - "That damned Felicia Langer is spreading her lies again," said one Israeli embassy official when she visited here recently - she sees herself as a defender of her country.

"Those who attack me so bitterly don't understand what the true interests of Israel are," she said in an interview while visiting here on a trip devoted to rallying American support for Palestinians and Arabs living in Israel.

"The progressive people of Israel who understand we have to survive with the Palestinians and recognize their rights - these people are my friends. The rest think I am very bad," she said.

Langer, a member of Israel's Communist Party, joked that some interviewers descibe her as a red head (she isn't; her hair is brownish), trying to tie her polities to her hair color.

She insisted that her party membership has nothing to do with her views on the position of Arabs in Israel. That, she said, came as a result of seeing three Arab villages on the West Bank that were destroyed in 1967 after the six-day war.

Before that, she had a traditional legal practice, mostly representing poor Jews. But after seeing the villages, which she said were leveled despite having no military value, "I promised myself from this very moment I shall devote all that I have to the defense of the oppressed Arabs.

"When peace comes," she said, "I will return to a normal legal practice, and I hope it will be soon."

Her unusual practice, in a country that considers itself an oasis of freedom in a sea of Arab countries that threaten its existence, has brought financial hardship to Langer, as well as threats on her life.

Yet the fact that she is allowed to practice is a measure of Israel's unique position in the Middle East. "The fact that she functions freely in court, holds regular press conferences, travels freely abroad is good for Israel's public relations because it speaks so effectively for freedom in Israel," said Freedman.

"It might be good for Israel's democracy," countered an embassy official here, "but not for our public relations."

Langer was born in Poland and spent most of World War II in Russia, which enabled her to miss most of the Nazi holocust which so seared the mind and emotions of so many Israelis, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Although she escaped the Holocaust, her husband - a businessman whom she married before coming to Israel - husband was in five Nazi concentration camps.

She moved to Israel in 1950 because her mother was there and, with only a high school education, became a factory worker. In 1959, the mother of a little boy, she decided to study law at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and graduated in 1965.

She is not a Zionist but, considers Israel her country. "I love the place," she said.

Her practice is not lucrative; her husband needs the family car for business and she travels by public bus from her home in Jerusalem to her office in Tel Aviv and around to prisons scattered across the country.

"I saw in this profession some kind of social work. I never saw it as a big source of income," she said.

Back at home, there's more trouble for Kirkland & Ellis, the major national law firm that is undergoing internal convulsions in both its Chicago headquarters and its Washington office.

The firm lost Wentinghouse Electric Co., which has already paid it $2.5 million in legal fees, as a client in a multimillion-dollar antitrust suit after a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled its risks the "very reasonable possibility of improper professional conduct."

The court said Westinghouse must either fire Kirkland & Ellis, which it did, or drop charges against three of 29 oil companies it accused of uranium price fixing. The potential conflict arose because Kirkland & Ellis' Washington office represents the American Petroleum Institute, to which the three firms belong.

The firms - Gulf, Kerr-McGee and Getty - argued that information gathered by the law firm while working for API might be used against them in the Westinghouse suit, Kirkland & Ellis on the other hand, insisted it isolates the Chicago-based attorneys handling the Westinghouse suit from the six attorneys in its Washington office who do work for API.

The appeals court said that isn't enough. Large firms with different offices and lawyers working on different cases are subject to the same conflict-of-interest rules as small firms or individual lawyers, which are barred from representing both sides in a suit, it said.

This comes on top of the firm's internal problems which saw its best-known Chicago partner, Donald Reuben, tossed out and the guiding light of its Washington office for almost 25 years, Frederick M. Rowe, take a sabbatical and remove his name from the firm's title here.

Reuben, incidently, took about 20 partners and associates with him when he left, along with some top clients.

Short takes. Thomas R. Jolly is moving down from Capitol Hill, where he was counsel to the sub-committee on postgraduate education of the House Committee on Education and Labor and legislative counsel to Rep. William D. Ford (D-Mich.), to become a partner in the Washington office of O'Connor & Hannan . . . C. Westbrook Murphy, deputy comptroller of the currency, has become a partner in Wald, Harkrader & Ross while Don Wallace Jr., director of the Institute for International and Foreign Trade Law, has become counsel to the firm.

A T-shirt spotted at the Tuckaho Recreation Center in suburban Virginia: "Washington is for Lawyers," with a bright red dollar sign near the heart.