A former Northern Virginia real estate lawyer who was sentenced to perform community service for embezzling $740,000 in client money -- crimes for which he could have been given 45 years in prison -- yesterday had his term further reduced.

Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Lewis D. Morris reduced the number of hours that Edward Forman must work in community service. Prosecutors objected to the reduction, arguing that Forman, who pleaded guilty two years ago to embezzlement and other charges, had been leniently sentenced.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Richard S. Mendelson, who argued that Forman should have to work the full 4,500 hours of community service ordered in 1983, asked Morris: "If an individual can go to Landmark Shopping Center and shoplift and get incarcerated for it, and another individual, who is a lawyer, can swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars and get community service . . . where is equal justice under the law?"

Forman, 64, a former partner in the Alexandria firm of Forman & Cherwek, resigned from the Virginia bar in 1981 after the embezzlement allegations arose. He pleaded guilty to two embezzlement counts and one of falsifying a loan application in a scheme in which he used clients' escrow funds in the now-defunct Unity Mortgage Corp. to buy property for himself and pay office expenses.

Yesterday, Forman said he had worked 3,450 hours in the Alexandria Sheriff's Department and housing office, and he asked Morris to eliminate the requirement that he work the additional 1,050 hours.

Morris, who was the original sentencing judge, cut the balance of Forman's sentence in half, ordering him to complete 525 more hours of service at the rate of 20 hours a week.

"I think I went overboard at the time," Morris said yesterday about his original sentence. The judge, who said he attended George Washington University Law School with Forman, said he was trying to be as compassionate as possible, particularly because Forman has high blood pressure and heart problems.

"I realized a lot of judges would have sent him to the penitentiary," Morris said. " . . . I'm opening myself to the same criticism: If he had been a poor man or a blue-collar worker, he would have gone to jail."

Forman, who said in court he wanted to reduced the number of hours he worked for city offices because he needed to make money to pay legal fees, said later he believed that yesterday's decision was fair.

"The public suffered no loss. They didn't lose a penny," Forman said about his crimes. "It was the title company that lost money . . . "