SIX YEARS AGO, Jill Wine-Volner's fame was made as an assistant Watergate special prosecutor, the one who questioned Rose Mary Woods about the 18-minute gap in the White House tapes, and (it must be said) the one the photographers like to catch on her way to federal court wearing a miniskirt and toting a briefcase.
When Watergate was over, ABC news offered Wine-Volner a job, but she said she decided she wanted to be Patricia Roberts Harris and not Barbara Walters. So, Wine-Volner practiced law with Harris' former firm, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Kampelman in Washington. Three years ago, Clifford Alexander, the secretary of the Army who shares some friends with Wine-Volner (like Pat Harris), persuaded her to become general counsel to the Army.
Last week, Wine-Volner, 36, left her $47,500-a-year job at the Pentagon.She packed up her office and put her Washington town house on the market. She has decided to go home -- to Chicago -- where she's going to talk to corporations, law firms and public interest groups about a job.
"Sometimes you just get to the point where it's time to move on," Wine-Volner said in an intereview.
The prospects in Chicago look exciting, Wine-Volner said, but she won't say what they are. She hasn't made a commitment because she felt she couldn't talk seriously with corporations or firms until she was out as the Army's general counsel. "It's just gets so messy," she said.
Wine-Volner has plenty of good things to say about her Army experience, supervising what she described as the biggest law firm in the U.S. with 2,500 military and civilian lawyers. And she insists that being the first female general counsel at Army was no different from being the first female member of the Watergate prosecution team or the first female anything.
"First, you are viewed as a woman, and then you prove to them you are a lawyer," Wine-Volner said.
"I was a woman, I was young and I was new," said Wine-Volner of her step into the military, and she was a civilian. She had to demonstrate that she could be tough, that she could perform under pressure and that she could ask the right questions and give the right answers.
One thing that drives Wine-Volner "up the wall" as she put it, is the label "woman lawyer." She said she has never been a woman lawyer. She is a lawyer who happens to be a woman. But, Wine-Volner said, "it is still not the same as being a man."
Hypersensitivity about distinguishing sex differences in the practice of law extends to the local bar associations. None of those organizations keep statistics on the number of lawyers who are women. Although such figures would be helpful in deciding, for example, whether women are fairly represented in local judgeships, the bar groups say such number-keeping would be discriminatory.
The Department of Labor can say, however, that 9.4 percent of the nation's 479,000 lawyers are women.
Meanwhile, Wine-Volner is well aware that it was Watergate that launched her career. But, she said, her Army job "topped Watergate."
Watergate, she said, "was in a sense a very destructive thing. We were tearing down a system." She doesn't want to sound corny, she said, but the experience was disillusioning.
When Jill Wine-Volner is asked about her ambitions, she says she wants "to be happy, which may sound silly." She said she has worked hard all her life and that she has been happy in her jobs. But now she seems to be looking for something else.
No longer married, Wine-Volner mentioned that she wanted to be happy in personal relationships, and there are those who say she is returning to Chicago because of a romantic attachment there.
There has been some shuffling in the White House counsel's office since President Carter announced that Lloyd N. Cutler would be taking over. Two new additions to the office are Joe Onek, currently associate director of the White House domestic policy staff who will be a deputy counsel, and Barbara Bergman, who was with the city's Public Defender Service. Bergman at one time practiced law with Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, which is Lloyd Cutler's former law firm.
Michael H. Cardozo, who was on the staff when Robert J. Lipshutz was counsel to the president, will remain as a deputy counsel. Margaret A. McKenna, a deputy counsel under Lipshutz, is expected to leave that office.
Meanwhile, at 1666 K St. NW, the home of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, new nameplates and fresh letterheads will be ready today for the official change in the firm's title as a result of Cutler's departure. As John H. Pickering explained it, the "comma Cutler" has been removed to make way for "Wilmer & Pickering."
Next week, Wilmer & Pickering will play host to some out-of-town visitors. The chairman of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, Lev Smirnov, other members of the court and delegates will be stopping by for a tour of the lawyers' offices and an explanation of how a law firm works in the United States.
"How you can do that in an hour, goodness knows, but we'll certainly try," said Pickering, who is also the president of the D.C. Bar.
While they are in Washington as part of a nationwide tour, the Soviet jurists will also reportedly visit the U.S. Supreme Court, the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance for the poor in civil matters, and the Department of Justice.
OBITER: Another Washington law firm, Ginsburg, Fedlman & Bress, is getting a new name. Frank A. Weil, formerly assistant secretary of commerce for industry and trade, today begins his partnership with the firm, which will be known as Ginsburg, Feldman, Weil & Bress.
Weil, 48, played a key advisory role in the U.S.-Japanese trade mission. Weil was chief financial officer at Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis, the New York investment banking firm, when he was nominated by Carter in 1977 to the Commerce Department position . . . Joan Z Bernstein has traded her job as general counsel to the Environmental Protection Agency to take the same post at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare . . . JoAnn Harris, 46, now an assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, will take over the fraud section of the criminal division at the Justice Department . . . Mark A. Merson, the former director of Community Law Offices, a nonprofit legal clinic in Adams-Morgan, is now in private law practice sharing office space with Kenneth M. Trombly . . . and Martha J. Tomich, a graduate of the Catholic University Law School who has been clerking for a LaPlata, Md., judge, will start work Oct. 15 as an assistant bar counsel at the D.C. Bar.