Washington's top lawyers may be tigers in the courtroom, but on the softball field, at least the coed softball field, the fiercest litigants say they're positively laid back.

Laywers who play softball here contend that it's the paralegals, legal assistants and secretaries who slug it out as if their lives depended on the game.

"The only time we got into heated arguments with the umpire, it's the non-lawyers," said Ralph Davis, a corporate lawyer with the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. "The most serious players, none of them are attorneys. And who's the only person that bled for the team?" he added, pointing to a litigation paralegal who got badly beaned in the lip.

The lawyers don't make much trouble, confirmed veteran umpire Frank L. Goldsmith, himself a retired lawyer. "They're used to order and authority," he said. "I'm the judge. You're out. Goodbye. There's no appeal."

"He's the final arbiter," came a respectful voice from the sidelines.

"The reason why they're not hard to deal with," Goldsmith added curtly, "is that none of them are any good."

Several of Washington's top law firms have coed softball teams, with legal assistants and other support staff filling out the ranks. But almost unanimously, they insist they don't carry their litigiousness onto the field.

"I don't have many examples of lawyers ranting and raving," said paralegal David Martz, coach of Morrison & Foerster's Mosox. "Here at our firm we take it not at all seriously." This year, Martz added, "We literally won only one game in 10, and that was called early."

Law and Disorder, the coed team at Miller & Chevalier, also did "horribly" this year -- two wins and seven losses -- despite their new pinstripe jerseys, said coach Carol Parody, a legal secretary.

The pitcher, a summer associate, got so wound up that the whole team had to calm him down, she said. But the hardest part was getting workaholic lawyers out on the field for 6 p.m. games.

"There definitely are lawyers who take their litigation antics onto the field," said Tim Nelson, coach of the Lonesome Gloves, 8-6 this year, at Vinson & Elkins. "But some teams are so laid back, they just go out and drink beer."

And then there's Skadden Arps, with 160 lawyers here specializing in corporate mergers, tax, communications and white-collar crime, and its two teams, The Big Swinging Bats and the Raiders, locked in a blood feud.

In the first preseason game, said Jeff Rosichan, a corporate lawyer and mainstay of The Big Swinging Bats, the Raiders won big. "The second game, we took it seriously and won," he said. And the two teams have been itching for a rematch ever since.

All season long memos mysteriously circulated around the office, each team threatening to crush its rival. At one game, contended Bats coach Tom Sachson, the Raiders pulled the "squishy ball trick," substituting a ball that simply wouldn't fly.

Kerin Stackpole, of the Raiders, categorically denied that allegation. "Tom, you are on another planet," she said.

The two teams met at twilight on July 31 for their final playoff. Serious indeed? There were two cases of beer riding on the game.

Rosichan, keyed up, offered a lone dissent. "Lawyers are the most aggressive players, the meanest, the loudest," he said. "Lawyers want to win, it's a basic instinct." And then he acknowledged, "I probably have an overdeveloped sense of competition."

Lisa Schofield, of the Raiders, a legal assistant, hit a pop fly and the Bats catcher picked it off gleefully. Schofield threw her bat on the ground and stalked off the field.

Jim Wrathall, an environmental lawyer and coach of the Raiders, was up, pawing at the batter's box. He hit a big pop fly. Later on the field another big fly came his way. He was under it, had it . . . and dropped it.

Umpire Goldsmith strolled over to kibitz. "I tell you, if it wasn't for the first base lady and the second base lady, they wouldn't be in the game." He wagged a finger. "Women always win the game. It's the men who lose it," he said.

Late in the game, a Raiders runner smacked into the third baseman, who dropped the ball. Goldsmith called her safe, and was immediately surrounded by angry Bats, gesticulating furiously.

"See, there's no lawyers out there. These are the legal assistants of America," said Wrathall, pointing to the angry circle.

Goldsmith shrugged, flipped a coin, and ruled the runner out. "He said he couldn't see," explained Becky Marcey, standing on the sidelines holding the Raiders' roster. "Too many feet in the dust."

Wrathall called the coin toss "a low point in softball adjudication."

The sun was setting. Rosichan hit a huge drive to center field, but Jan "Sparky" Anderson, a secretary and the Raiders' organizer, caught it. The Raiders reigned, 9-8.

"Yay, it's Miller time!" someone cheerily hollered, breaking open a beer.