CARIN A. CLAUSS'S rocky road to the U.S. bench has received another setback - this time from a panel of U.S. Appeals Court judges who used uncommonly harsh language to criticize the conduct of Labor Department lawyers she supervises.

As a result of the opinion last month, the Senate in its closing hours held up consideration of Clauss, the top legal officer of the Labor Department, and President Carter will have to renominate her again next year if he still wants her to be a U.S. District Court judge here (which she said he does).

Moreover, the American Bar Association's panel that reviews appointments to the federal bench - which first found Clauss unqualified becuase she lacks trial experience but later changed its mind after she took over a few cases herself - has reopened its investigation into her nomination as a result of the court opinion.

The court's harsh language came in a footnote to its opinion in a routine petition for review of a decision by the Occupatonal Safety and Health Revew Commission.

Then the three-judge appeals court panel unloaded its heavy ammunition at the Labor Department lawyers. After detailing how a government brief due in late April was finally filed four months later after the court had said there should not be any further extensions the judges said:

"We register our most vigorous disapproval of the contumacious conduct of government counsel in this case. We are directing that the clerk send a copy of this opinion to the secretary of labor, the solicitor for labor and to the appropriate committee or committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States studying the question of competence of counsel appearing in federal courts."

"That's very unusual. That's not common at all. The court was obviously quite disutrbed," said A. Leo Levin, director of the Federal Judicial Center and a former law professor.

Even Clauss was surprised. "It's the first time I've ever seen anything like that in a court decision," she said.

What the court meant in language made all the more severe by the absence of the flowery niceties usually used when a judge criticizes a lawyer (such as addressing him as "learned counsel") is, "This is a problem so severe that it should be brought to the attention of the (Judicial Conference) Committee," continued Levin.

Clauss said she was not directly involved in the case but by tradition her name is affixed to all legal papers coming out of the Labor Department. As a result of the judicial criticism, she said she has tightened procedures among Labor Department lawyers to make sure papers get filed on time.

But the strong statement from the Third Circuit appeals court panel is considered potentially damaging to her chances for a federal judgeship because she argued that her administrative experience running the Labor Department's 500 lawyers more than made up for her lack of experience as a trial attorney.

Now, even that administrative experience is being questioned.

You'd think a lawyer would be glad to talk when he has been cleared of highly publicized charges of misconduct by the D.C. Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility. But not Washington attorney Kenneth Wells Parkinson, who was investigated for misconduct as a result of his representation of the Republican National Committee following Watergate.

"No comment," said Parkinsom's secretary even before a reporter could tell what he was calling about. "He's not going to talk about it," the secretary continued.

Parkinson was aquitted by a U.S. District Court jury on Jan. 1, 1975, of charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The prosecuters charged that he passed a list of money demands from the Watergate burglars to White House counsel John W. Dean III, but he testified that he did nothing more but deliver messages whose contents he never knew.

D.C. Bar notes: The Board of Governors postponed consideration of the controversial new rules designed to block the revolving door between government and private for a series of special meetings - Now, 28, Dec. 5 and, if needed, Dec. 11.

David Ellwanger, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, picked as new executive director of the D.C. Bar, replacing R. Patrick Maxwell. Ellwanger is a former American Bar Association staff member who had been a poverty lawyer.

Two members reappointed and two new members picked for the non lawyer representatives on the Legal Ethics Committee. David Harrington and Alan Barth were renamed and the Rev. Harold Lewis and Anita Shelton are the new members.

Here's a switch: Wayne S. Bishop, former managing partner of the Washington office of the Hot Dallas-D.C. law firm, Akin, Gump, Hauer & Field is moving to the Washington office of a Chicago firm, Seyfarth, Shaw, Fairweather & Gerakison. Reportedly, he's taking a few clients over with him, and Seyfarth expects to expand its office here.

Bishop said he quit Akin, Gump - one of the fastest growing in the country and the former home of Robert Strauss, President Carter's troubleshooter on inflation and foreing trade - because he was spending too much time managing the burgeoning Washington office and too little time taking care of his clients.

Short takes: Sargent Karch, former general counsel and executive director of the National Football League Management Council, joining Vedder, Price, Kaufman, Kammholz & Day, where he'll continue to handle labor matter for the professional football owners . . . Associate Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, a former Richmond lawyer, received the first Kappa Sigma alumnus of the year award . . . CBS legal correspondent Fred Graham, a lawyer talking to the Washington Council of Lawyers Thursday . . . Women's Bar Association holding a seminar Tuesday on property rights of unmarried couples, and some lawyers are advising clients to attend "just in case."