In nearly 25 years of practice, Washington lawyer Charles T. Taylor kept numerous clients out of jail. Yesterday, he managed to do the same for himself, getting probation after pleading guilty to theft.

Taylor could have received a one-year jail term after admitting that he stole $28,100 from a client. Instead, he was ordered by a judge in U.S. District Court in Washington to make full restitution and perform 200 hours of community service.

Prosecutors said Taylor agreed in 1992 to represent a woman who suffered chronic injuries in a fall after slipping on a patch of oil in a gas station parking lot. Instead of honoring her wishes to file a lawsuit, he secretly negotiated a settlement and used the money for himself, they said.

Taylor, 64, was disbarred recently because of his handling of the civil case. He apologized in court yesterday to the victim, Irish Eccles, who had urged the judge to jail him for his "unethical and dishonest behavior."

But Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson, noting that Taylor had not been in trouble before, gave him probation and a chance to repay the money.

"What has he lost?" an angry Eccles asked after the proceedings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Cheatham said Taylor did not tell Eccles when he negotiated a $27,500 settlement with the gas station's insurer in June 1994. He kept $5,000 and put the rest into the Foxtrappe Private Towne Club, a Southwest Washington nightspot that he and other investors were opening. The club later shut down while having financial problems.

Even after signing Eccles' name on the insurer's check, Taylor continued to charge Eccles $1,450 for expenses, Cheatham said. He said he needed money to file the suit--although he had settled the case without telling her. He later returned about $850 of the expense money. It wasn't until 1995 that Eccles learned what had happened.

Taylor's attorney, William R. Martin, said Taylor plans to get a job in sales or manual labor to repay Eccles. Martin said Taylor's problems were compounded by a severe heart attack in late 1994.