Lawyers, as the old saying goes, make money off other people's problems. So it comes as no surprise that lawyers are jumping into the computer law business as disgruntled purchasers haul manufacturers into court.

Small businessmen have filed thousands of lawsuits in the last few years against computer manufacturers, claiming the computers the companies sold either didn't do what they were supposed to do or, worse yet, do things they aren't supposed to do--like obliterate inventories.

The exploding litigation has spawned a new bimonthly publication called the Computer Law Reporter, which lists recent court cases involving computers. About 100 computer-related lawsuits were filed in federal courts last month alone, says assistant managing editor Gary Rinkerman.

Jay Westermeier, one of a growing number of local attorneys in the field, says horror stories of frustrated consumers abound. One example, he said, was a group of Silver Spring doctors who wanted a system to keep track of patient diagnoses. They bought a $60,000 system in 1977 that didn't work. Two years later, assured by another vendor that his computer would meet their needs, they bought a $77,000 system. But that system couldn't handle more than one diagnosis per patient. Patients with two problems were out of luck.

Both systems are now collecting dust, Westermeier says, and the doctors are suing the second, now defunct, manufacturer to try to recover some of their losses.

The biggest problem, says attorney Mary Gallagher, is that the contracts offered by many computer firms provide little protection to consumers. She advises her clients to make sure suppliers sign contracts specifying exactly what their computers will and will not do.