AND WE accuse doctors of an inability to speak plain English.

My friend, a resident in radiology had called to ask about his rights in an oral contract.

"What I need to know," I told him, "is whether there's been any detrimental reliance on your part."

"What do you mean, detrimental reliance?"

I grew a little irritated. What did he think I meant?

"Well, have you relied to your detriment on this contract? Have you changed your position at all? Have you made reciprocal promises?"

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "What in the hell are you talking about?" he demanded.

I knew then that the bar had gotten to me; I could no longer speak English.

And only two weeks into my preparation, too. Two weeks of an already familiar scene - unwieldy gold outlines, empty Diet Pepsi cans, overflowing ash-trays. I wondered idly whether saccharin or nicotine was the higher form of carcinogen as I gamely tried to stay awake.

"Miranda rights attach only at custodial interrogation."

"Only one with clean hands can come into equity."

"To make an enforceable contract, there must have been a meeting of the minds (subjective test)."

The outlines slowly began to fray, then to fall apart. Whatever their form, they were a perfect sleeping pill. I awoke one night from a short nap turned long to find my husband reading one of the outlines. "I want to talk to you about this," he said, frowning. "Why is it that an attorney has a duty to report future, but not past, crimes?"

Professional responsibility question. I hadn't read the outline yet. I moaned and pretended to be asleep. The trouble with laymen, I reflected grimly, was that they wanted an answer immediately, right off the top of your head. They simply had no idea of the nuances of the law, of its immense boundaries. An answer well considered and well reasoned took a great deal of time and care.

Unfortunately, bar examiners had the same trouble as laymen.

"How much did you study?" I asked a friend who had passed the exam two years earlier.

"That's the third time you've asked me that, I still can't recall."

For some reason, I'd been accused of repeating myself lately.

Other, unsolicited advice continued to flow.

"Remember, do professional responsibility questions, that whatever the lawyer is doing is wrong."

Whatever you do while you're at the bar, don't share a motel room with any one."

You're working too hard. Take it easy."

?You look tired. You probably need some speed." Then, in an incredulous tone of voice, "You got through law school witout ever taking speed???"

"You're too high strung to take speed. Just relax."

If I vacillated between confidence and terror, my temperament, at least, remained stable. I was snappish and irritable.

"Do you realize how much I have to memorize?" I asked my husband. "Just look at the days of the week. One day: A bank has until its midnight deadline to dishonor a check. Two days: One until then, unless it's to a holder in due course, payment isn't final and the bank can revoke its acceptance of a check. Three days: . . . Oh, yes, a director of a corporation who wnats to dissent from a vote so as not to be held liable . . ."

"I think I get the point," he said.

The mountain of unread newspapers around me grew higher. Only days before the bar did I realize that China had invaded Vietnam and that the world would no doubt erupt into a nuclear war. And there I was, spending my last weekend on earth, staring glassy-eyed into an outline, cramming for an exam that on one would live to grade.

Over 800 applicants crowded into the Roanoke Civic Center on the first day of the exam. All of us were clothed in the required "proper attire" - suits for men, dresses for women. Screeches for nervous laughter were heard periodically. "She made 300 on her law boards and had to beg and plead before they let her into law school," a friend told me, indicating a mop-headed woman who was talking incessantly. I liked to hear that.

The night before, during one of the worst meals I'd ever eaten, three of us had discussed the extent of damages we could get if we contacted food poisoning from the dinner.

"They'd liable if we couldn't take the bar," one woman had said definitely. "After all, they know what we're here for - so they'd certainly be held liable if we weren't able to take it."

Of course, Hadley v. Baxendale ," someone else had muttered.

The dining room had been crowded with other applicants. Some of them talking and laughing shrilly. Others bent over the ubiquitous gold outlines, the Supreme Court rules. They all had given me the creepe.

And now here we were, three to a table, on the ground floor of the auditorium. We sat through the morning session of 10 essay questions, chewing on pens and staring off into space. Between sessions I eavesdropped on other groups of people, comparing their answers to my own. Sometimes I wondered if we had taken the same exam.

A middle-aged man cornered me. "I think you women should get interested in that case before the Supreme Court about that lady who wasn't allowed to take the bar because she was shacked up with some guy. I think that's pure sexism. You should get interested in something like that - instead of all the bull that libbers are usually hollering about."

Indeed. "Libbers" echoed tha same archaic tones as "knee-grow." But it was time to file back onto the floor for the afternoon session, and I had no chance to ask him about the bull that libbers were usually hollering about.

The examiners were upset. They pleaded with us to limit out trips to the bathroom. "Please - only for emergencies. Smoking is not an emergency. If you have to go to the bathroom, why don't you see if you can hold it in just a few more minutes. These poor people by the door are sick of you trailing by them."

"Who says smoking's not an emergency?" grunted the man next to me, wistfully fingering a cigarette from the pack in front of him.

Ten more essay questions during the afternoon session. The final question was the plight of Fairly Flatt, a young girl who "had no luck attracting boys. So, in order to make her life a success, she decided to become a career woman."

I glared at the question, thumping my fingers against the table. Fairly Flatt, indeed. Desire to pass the examination won out over ideology and I answered the question. Not only had the examiners created a Flatt, unattractive career woman (doubtless a tautology in some minds), but worse, it turned out that by my calculations the shock given her by her father would be taxable in his estate. The deck, it seemed, was stacked, even if Fairly was not.

I finished the essays in a flourish. I had managed to include one equitable maxim: "Equity considers to be done that which ought to be done." I had devoted most of my answers to my peculiar system of "cover your ass." The majority of my second paragraphs began with, "but, on the other hand . . ." The idea was to come down hard in every conceivable direction. And my writing style - certainly the examiners had to admit that I had flair. Had anyone ever used semicolons more beautifully? Or more extravagantly?

I left the room slowly, gazing at the heads still bent over the bluebooks.

It was over. I felt light. I felt wonderful. I felt euphoric.

The grades, we had been told, would not be out for another two months. There would be time enough to worry about that later.

In the meantime, my English is improving rapidly.