After 12 years of representing Maryland's blue-chip corporations and the professional elite of Montgomery County, the law firm cofounded by state Sen. Laurence Levitan is dissolving, shattered by too-rapid growth and disagreements among its managing partners, firm members said.

"It's like a divorce, and sad to see happen, but sometimes it's better to be separated," said Levitan, a Montgomery Democrat who chairs the state Senate's powerful Budget and Taxation Committee.

Levitan said he fought the dissolution of Levitan, Ezrin, West and Kerxton, the latest incarnation of the firm he helped form in 1972 with five other lawyers. But his partners, citing disagreements about the management of finances and other issues, decided Nov. 25 to split up, firm members said.

The firm's demise marks an ironic end to a hugely successful suburban law firm, one that in a decade quadrupled in size to become the 16th largest firm in Maryland.

The firm maintained a lavish suite in the Air Rights Building in Bethesda and opened offices in Wheaton and Annandale, thanks largely to clients who included the state's largest corporations and developers, as well as doctors, lawyers and other professionals who sought tax and personal incorporation advice.

But in the end, money led to the firm's dissolution, employes said.

"Heavy expenses and lack of management caused people to make less than they wanted to," said cofounder Ronald D. West, who stressed that the firm itself was in rosy financial health. "It was a question of having too many people . . . and no one wanting to be a business manager."

Levitan echoed West, saying the breakup centered on "questions of value: Who does what? Who brings in the clients?"

Levitan, an expert on real estate law, added that some of his colleagues were "concerned" about the three months out of the year he spent at the General Assembly.

"Anyone who says that it's easy to serve in the legislature and maintain a law practice is absolutely wrong," he said.

The breakup already has had some effects: Six younger associate lawyers and about a dozen secretaries and paralegal employes are out of jobs and the firm's branch offices have closed.