BALTIMORE -- The number of black law firms doing criminal and civil work in Baltimore has declined dramatically in the last 25 years, and most black lawyers are going to work for the government, area bar associations say.

A report released this week by a joint committee of state and local bar associations said the scarcity of black law firms and black lawyers in private practice is due mostly to the failure of large corporations to send legal business to minority lawyers, and the dismal record of large, white-dominated law firms in hiring blacks.

But the problems start with law school, where the number of applications from minority students also is declining, the report says.

The report arose from a conference last May on minorities in the legal profession. The conference grew out of discussion in 1985 between the Maryland State Bar Association and the Monumental Bar Association, the group for black lawyers, about improving ties between the two organizations.

The report traces the problems of minorities throughout the legal profession. Of the approximately 4,300 practicing lawyers in Baltimore, 350 are black, the report said.

Most black lawyers go into public service. And because of mergers and divisions among black firms, there are now no black law firms offering a full range of civil and criminal legal services within the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, according to the report.

Elijah Cummings, partner in the firm of Cummings and Smith P.A. and the only black lawyer in the General Assembly, estimated that there are only about six black law firms of any size in the city.

Cummings said one way to halt the decline of black law firms is to encourage more joint ventures between the large "majority" law firms and minority firms. The report also recommends that course.

The state bar also should develop ways to help minority lawyers compete for business from banks, insurance companies and other corporations, the study recommends.

The report recommended that large law firms make a greater commitment to recruit black lawyers.