Two of Washington's best-known white-collar criminal defense lawyers have decided to split up after 19 years of defending celebrated clients in some of the city's and the country's highest-profile criminal cases.

As of Oct. 1, William G. Hundley of Hundley & Cacheris will join his close friend Robert S. Strauss at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, one of the city's largest law firms. His partner, Plato Cacheris, will start practicing law with Dunnells, Duvall, Bennett & Porter, which has a highly regarded white-collar criminal practice headed by Cacheris' close friends Robert S. Bennett and Carl S. Rauh.

Hundley, 61, served as a special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and chief of the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. His clients in private practice have included former attorney general John N. Mitchell, Old Court Savings & Loan owner Jeffrey Levitt, Korean businessman Tongsun Park, a codefendant in the trial of former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel, and E.F. Hutton.

Hundley's colleague at Hundley & Cacheris, Larry S. Gondelman, also will join Akin Gump.

Cacheris, 58, has been in the news most recently as the lawyer for Fawn Hall, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North's secretary. Cacheris, who worked with Hundley on the Mitchell case, also has represented Alexandria Police Chief Charles T. Strobel; former representative Michael O. (Ozzie) Myers (D-Pa.) in the Abscam probe, and Annandale gynecologist David Davoudlarian, whose trial in a civil lawsuit involving the death of his wife ended in a hung jury.

"He's keeping the Levitts and I'm keeping Fawn Hall," Cacheris joked. The two partners met in 1957 when Hundley was the chief of the Justice Department's Internal Security Section and Cacheris was a new lawyer there.

The amicable breakup illustrates in part the growing attraction of criminal law specialists for large corporate firms that traditionally turned up their noses at handling criminal cases.

As white-collar cases have grown more common and more complex -- and consequently, more lucrative -- prestigious law firms have moved to add lawyers with expertise in such cases, often by luring them away from their competitors.

Last week, for example, Debevoise & Plimpton, a large New York-based firm that has been beefing up its white-collar capabilities here and in New York, announced that it had recruited noted white-collar litigator Judah Best, the lawyer for former vice president Spiro T. Agnew, from Steptoe & Johnson.

"It used to be that when, let's say, one of their high corporate people might come under criminal investigation they would refer it out," Hundley said. "As a matter of fact, I got an awful lot of referrals that way . . . . Now it appears that they want to do it themselves. They are trying to get their own people and tool up to do it."

At the same time, it has become more difficult for tiny firms such as Hundley & Cacheris to grapple with the often mammoth investigations required in complicated white-collar cases.

"There's more difficulty when you're small in getting the big corporate clients," Hundley said. "Now, I've had some, particularly in the last several years . . . . I like that, the big, corporate, white-collar stuff. I feel I'll have more of an opportunity to do that there."

Cacheris made a similar point. "You really need a lot more support than we're able to give each other," he said. "It's just reached a stage where we couldn't hang out just the three of us any more."

For example, he noted, "The last time Bill and I tried a case together was Watergate. We haven't been able to devote both of us to one case like that at the expense of other cases."

When they are at separate firms, he said, "we'll probably be trying cases together for the first time in a long time."