When James B. Gordon retired as Washington counsel for the Bendix Corp. seven years ago he didn't feel ready for the rocking chair. So he beacme a headhunter - a recruiter of lawyers for law firms and major corporations.

Though executive recruiting has become a boom industry in the country, only a handful of firms specialize in getting jobs for lawyers. Juris Doctor listed 50 of them last year, and Gordon runs one of three legal recruiting services in Washington - a scarcity considering the number of lawyers here.

"It amazed me when I open my office here last year," said Susan C. Miller, another legal headhunter in Washington. "This is a town of lawyers and there's no work with them on their placement. It's a great untapped hunting ground."

Both Gordon and Miller specialize in finding lawyers to fill specific jobs offered by law firms or by the legal departments of major corporations. Though they get hundreds of unsolicited resumes, the glut of lawyers around the country means limited success in hustling jobs for individual attorneys.

Their fee comes from the firm or corporation that hires them, usually 20 per cent or more of the first year's salary of an attorney.

Partially because many major corporations advertise on their own and only want lawyers who are coming in at the bottom, Gordon is switching toward arranging mergers - especially between out-of-town firms who want to join a Washington firm with an established practice.

Gordon also sees new age discrimination laws as slowing the growth of legal departments of big corporations. Lawyers like himself no longer can be forced to retire at age 65, and many are staying on.

"That means there's going to be no attrition for another five years," said Gordon, who admits that he was forced to take an early retirement in 1971 after 43 years with Bendix.

In one Fortune 200 company, for example, the assistant labor counsel expected to succeed his boss, who now has decided not to retire at age 65. The same thing happened to the assistant general counsel.

"They both called Jim Gordon. They're restless," said Gordon.

Miller, a former high school teacher and para-legal practitioner, worked for a firm of legal head-hunters in New York. She moved here with her husband a little more than a year ago and opened her own busienss, using her law firm and corporate clients from New York as a base.

"From almost the day I opened my office a number of out-of-town firms started Washington offices. I found that a lucrative area, she said.

Firms moving to Washington, she said, often look for "a high-level, visible partner" to run the office here.

Beyond that, she finds government attorneys - some of whom don't even know they are being looked over - as a good storehouse of talent to fill job requests.

For example, a 50-member Boston firm specializing in labor and equal employment opportunity law needed a senior attorney who knows the field. She sifted through names of attorneys with the Justice Department and Equal Employment Opportunities Commission - names she had gotten from friends or by checking the names of government attorneys handling major cases - to find the right person.

Government attorneys are generally receptive when she approaches them cold about a possible new job. "Who in his right mind is not interested in bettering himself." Miller asked.

Hotest show in town for Washington lawyers: the U.S. District Court bribery-conspiracy trial of millionaire developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. and former city official Joseph P. Yeldell starring Edward Bennett Williams, one of the best known criminial defense attorneys in the country.He is handling Antonelli's case.

Attorneys crowded the courtroom Tuesday for Williams' opening statment. Among those sitting inside the well were U.S. Attorney Earl Silbert Jr. and his number one assistant, Carl Rauth.

One Justice Department lawyer kept calling a reporter friend to find out when Williams would be cross-examining a key government witness. He is reputed to be one of the top cross-examiners in the country.

Incidently, with all the questions asked prospective junors about possible prejudice in the case no one brought up the fact that WIlliams showed up prominently on television Monday night sitting next to President Carter at the Redskins football game. Williams is president of the Redskins.

Virginia Bar notes: Few lawyers in the state - except for those in Northern Virginia - are taking advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted bans on attorney advertising, an Associated Press survey shows. Only three lawyers in Richmond and a small handful in the Tidewater area have advertised.

Get your bathing suits. THe Virginia State Bar will hold its mid-year meeting in the Bahamas Nov. 1-5 . . . Malpratice insurance rates for Virginia lawyers are rising, but they haven't reached the levels of other parts of the country, reports E. Kendall Stock, chairman of the Bar's malpractice insurance committee.