Clark Clifford is Washington's premier rainmaker: when he speaks, top government officials listen - that is, until recently.

Faced with the largest tire recall in U.S. history because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found defects in its 500 steel-belted radials. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. called on Clifford. Naturally, one of the first things he did was request an appointment with NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook, a former Ralph Nader associate.

"He called me and said he was asked by Ray Firestone to take the case and wanted to come to talk to me," said Claybrook."I told him I wasn't the right person. He should talk to the defect staff handling the case.

"He said, 'Is that the right way to handle it?' I told him it was and he said he wanted to do it the proper way."

"From then on it was handled by the lawyers," continued Claybrook.

Clifford got to meet with Claybrook last month when she called Richard A. Riley, the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Firestone to Washington in a final attempt at a negotiated recall before the NHTSA ordered one.

"Clifford dominated that meeting," said Claybrook, "even though Riley was the chairman of the board. He (Clifford) was clearly the man in charge - or attempting to be the man in charge.

"It is an interesting commentary on the whole role of the lawyer in the process," she added.

Clifford's attempt to take charge of the meeting, Claybrook said impeded a free flow of conversation between Riley, the Firestone boss, and the government officials.

That, she said, taught her a valuable lesson: Next time she's faced with that kind of situation, she's going to take a more dominant role herself.

"It won't happen again," she vowed.

Among attorneys it's known as "the Joe Louis trick" for the time 21 years ago that the Brown Bomber - revered by blacks everywhere - paraded through a Washington courtroom to demonstrate to a largely black jury his friendship for Jimmy Hoffa, who was later acquitted of charges he tried to plant a spy on the staff of a Senate committee investigating him.

"It worked one time," said F. Lee Bailey, one of the nation's top criminal lawyers. "That's when blacks were new to sitting on a jury."

Now Washington has developed a reputation among defense attorneys across the country as a hanging jury town, especially on corruptiuon cases.

"The toughest case in the world to defend in Washington is corruption," said Bailey, passing through here to promote his new novel, "Secrets."

"I don't think the black jurors in this town do any favors for anyone," Bailey continued. "I "think Eddie (Edward Bennett) Williams (who defended Hoffa when Louis visited the courtroom) was lucky to get John Connolly off even though the case against him stunk."

The law-and-order nature of Washington jurys - mostly black and mostly government workers - came through most clearly recently with the conviction to separate trials of Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.), a popular black congressman from Detroit, and Joseph Yeldell, a District of Columbia political force believed to have great popular following among black Washingtonians.

Diggs, said Bailey, might have been acquitted by a jury in Detroit.

DeJongh Franklin, an early supporter of President Carter from Atlanta, has left the White House staff to return to private law practice. He will be of counsel in the Washington office of O'Connor & Hannan, where he will be about three days a week, while remaining a partner in his old Atlanta firm, Smith, Cohen, Ringel, Kohler & Martin.

In the White House - he really worked in the Executive Office Building, where he had Richard M. Nixon's old hideaway office - Franklin handled some of the Carter administration's business liason chores and worked very closely with Bert Lance when he headed the Office of Management and Budget.

Franklin said he is going to steer clear in his private practice of anything he handled while working in the White House. "I will be very careful not to let myself get directly involved with anyone I had influence in getting appointed to a regulatory agency," he said.

Franklin said he turned in his White House pass on leaving just because he wanted to avoid the appearance of any impropriety. But he's not worried about getting past the gates any time he wants; he still has a lot of Georgia friends in there.

Right on top of the news: The Women's Bar Association is sponsoring a panel on proposals by the D.C. Bar's Legal Ethics Committee at noon Nov. 28 at Trudie Ball's Empress Restaurant - just a few hours before the D.C. Bar's board of Governors begins the first of three meetings on the issue just a few blocks away.

Speaking at the Women's Bar forum will be William H. Allen, chairman of the D.C. Bar's ethics committee Monroe H. Freedman, a former chairman and a force behind strong regulations to curb the revolving door; Burton L. Raimi, who left the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for private practice, and Deanne C. Siemer, a former private practitioner now General Counsel of the Defense Department.

Besides the Nov. 28 meeting, the D.C. Bar's board of governors has also set aside meeting time on the revolving door issue for Dec. 5 and Dec. 11.

Short takes: The Department of Energy's Solar Energy Research Institute of Golden, Colo., is publishing a new magazine, Solar Law Reporter, on the latest cases in this new area of the law . . . The Virginia State Bar announced that it is investigating unauthorized practice of law in savings and loan, banking and real estate transactions . . . Stuart Fisk Johnson has moved his office to 2021 K St. NW . . . Oops, sorry: The Fred Nathan referred to in all week's column as the lawyer who writes all his contracts in plain English is really Paul R. Nathan.