"The first person who suggests that legal ethics is an oxymoron will be asked to leave the room," warned the Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a Georgetown University law professor.

The occasion was the launching of a law review at Georgetown -- and with hundreds of scholarly journals already devoted to exploring the legal intricacies of subjects from space law to civil rights, as Georgetown University Law Center Dean Robert Pitofsky noted, "It's hardly news that another law school is starting another law journal."

What was news was that the newest law review is the first in the country focused on issues of legal ethics and professional responsibility.

When the idea of a journal on legal ethics was proposed to him, Pitofsky said, he found it "astonishing" that one did not exist.

In an age when lawyers are embroiled in messes such as the Iran-contra affair and Wall Street's insider trading scandal, when blue-chip law firms agree to pay millions of dollars to settle malpractice claims against them, and when the practice of law is undergoing a remarkable transformation from a gentlemanly profession to a brutally competitive business, "This is an idea whose time has come," Drinan said.

He is the faculty adviser for the new publication, the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, edited by 40 law students. The debut issue features articles by ethics experts Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr. of Yale University, Ronald D. Rotunda of the University of Illinois and Charles Wolfram of Cornell University.

For the most part, Washington law firms have resisted the urge to spread their legal tentacles into branch offices. While large firms from New York to Los Angeles have hung out shingles on two coasts and various locations in between -- most often the nation's capital -- District firms have generally either decided to stay put or, more rarely, set up tiny outposts elsewhere.

Now, in yet another sign of the changing legal times, Arnold & Porter, one of the District's largest and most prestigious law firms, has announced plans to expand its tiny, two-lawyer New York outpost to a 40- to 50-lawyer branch office in three to five years.

"Having a New York office is becoming a necessary adjunct to our corporate and financial practice," said Arnold & Porter managing partner James W. Jones.

In recent years, the firm's practice has shifted somewhat from the federal litigation and agency proceedings that form the backbone of traditional Washington practice and has become more involved with the corporate and securities work that is generally done out of New York. For example, the firm has handled debt restructuring work for Brazil and Venezuela.

"It has become clear that those clients have the expectation that major kinds of financing transactions need to happen in New York rather than D.C.," Jones said. "For us, I think, the decision to move into New York reflects less of a participation in the sort of branching binge that's been going on within the profession than it does of the changing nature of our practice."

Arnold & Porter, which has a seven-year-old, 14-lawyer Denver office, will staff the New York office with three partners from the office here and two lured from Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, a New York firm.

In other Arnold & Porter news, the firm, which traditionally is the first large Washington firm to announce its starting salaries each year, has taken a big leap again this year, boosting first-year pay from $50,000 to $58,000.

And meanwhile, Steptoe & Johnson, which in January opened a Phoenix office headed by Thompson Powers and former Arizona governor and presidential hopeful Bruce Babbitt, is gobbling up a five-lawyer Phoenix firm, Lowe & Berman, to beef up the branch office.

The D.C. Bar, frustrated over what it views as the failure to appoint enough lawyers with local ties to the federal bench here, has established its own screening committee to evaluate candidates for federal judgeships in the District, along the lines of the American Bar Association panel that rates judicial nominees. Among the criteria to be weighed are the nominees' contacts with the District and membership in the D.C. Bar.

Outgoing bar President Paul L. Friedman, who made the issue a priority during his tenure, vowed, "We are eventually going to have an impact on this process. I may not live to see it."

And now for the results of the recent bar elections: Philip A. Lacovara of Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, is president-elect. Martin D. Minsker of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin won the race for secretary, and Elizabeth Hayes Patterson, associate professor of law at Georgetown, was elected treasurer. Chosen for the bar's board of governors were sole practitioner Constance L. Belfiore, Jane Golden Belford of Foley & Lardner, James E. Coleman Jr. of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Carolyn B. Lamm of White and Case, and Frank J. Martell of Martell, Donnelly, Grimaldi & Gallagher.

Meanwhile, David F. Grimaldi has assumed the presidency of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia . . . . Harlow R. Case of Jack H. Olender & Associates has become president of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.

Revolving door notes: Former Federal Communications Commission chairman Mark S. Fowler is joining the Washington office of Latham & Watkins . . . . Commerce Department officials H.P. Goldfield, Richard A. Popkin and Piper P. Starr are joining Swidler & Berlin.

And the man once hailed by the New Republic magazine as the possessor of the best resume in the United States has decided to tack on a new line. Benjamin W. Heineman Jr., managing partner of the 110-lawyer Washington office of Sidley & Austin, is leaving town to become general counsel, senior vice president and secretary of General Electric Co.