Lawrence S. Lesser, 72, a former government attorney and later the Washington partner in the New York law firm of Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin, Krim & Ballon, died Wednesday at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mr. Lesser came to Washington in 1937 as a special counsel to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He later worked for the Department of the Treasury and the old bureau of Internal Revenue.

In 1944 and 1945, he was assistant executive director of the old War Refugee Board, which was created to help rescue European minorities from the Nazis.

In 1946, he went into private practice with the agency's executive director, John W. Pehle. He became the Washington partner in the Phillips firm in 1960 and retired in 1977.

Mr. Lesser was born in New York City. He graduated from Yale University and earned a law degree from Harvard Law School, where he also was editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Before coming to Washington, he was a legal assistant to the New York State legislature's joint committee to investigate New York City's affairs and a special deputy assistant to the district attorney for New York County.

He lived in Washington and was a member of the Cosmos, Harvard, Yale and Lawyers clubs, the American Law Institute and the American Society of International Law.

Survivors include his wife, Frances, of the home; a daughte, Margaret L. Hammerling, of Harrison, N.Y.; a son, George, also of Washington, and two sisters, Rhoda Diamond, of Chappaqua, N.Y., and Patricia Clark, of New York City. CAPTION: Picture, LAWRENCE S. LESSER