Perestroika appears to be spreading. One of the oldest and often bitterest rivalries -- between doctors and lawyers -- is being broken down this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association Journal. An identical editorial is running in both magazines, one that calls on doctors and lawyers to return to the "great tradition" and "proper behavior" of their professions: serving the poor without pay.

Editorials like that aren't written every day. Of course not -- the message is revolutionary. It calls on two of the nation's wealthiest professions to remember what in law is called pro bono publico and in medicine, caritas. "Doctors and lawyers today have tended to become overly concerned with their professional incomes and practice efficiencies," the editors of the magazines write. "Many members of our professions have always cared for the poor who need legal or medical help. But their efforts are not what they should be, and there is abundant evidence of unmet needs."

The editorial asks doctors and lawyers -- as a matter of ethics and good faith -- to give at least 50 hours a year to poor people. According to the ABA, nearly 70 percent of the legal problems of the poor are not handled by lawyers. Medically, between 35 million and 50 million Americans are said to be uninsured or underinsured.

The two magazines collaborated after George Lundberg, the AMA editor, called Laurence Bodine, the ABA editor, and suggested they talk over lunch in Chicago. In rallying doctors to altruism, the editorial had exactly the right tone of urgency and conscience. Its only lack -- and an issue which can be dealt with in future editorials -- was failing to mention the nonfinancial rewards of this kind of service.

Among my most cherished memories of my father -- a country lawyer on Long Island for 45 years -- was his work for low-income families. Our home was often like an annex of Ellis Island, with Polish, Italian and Irish immigrants coming in with legal problems. It was the basics: wills, tenant rights, labor disputes.

My father rarely sent bills. To avoid making the poor feel they were freeloading, he suggested they could pay with vegetables from their gardens or soup or home-baked bread. It was a barter of justice for nutrition, with hearty appetites on both sides. My father, a man of contentment, believed you couldn't love the law without also loving those who needed it most.

Over the years, I have met many lawyers of the same philosophy. They are marked by an adventurousness that always has room for one more nonpaying client or one more long shot. Roger Baldwin, the ex-convict and founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote of them: "I think highly of reformers, revolutionists, dreamers, dissenters, disturbers of the status quo. I know a lot of them are proved wrong -- some {can be} dangerous. But the spirit of reform that drives them has driven me, and while I have never been fanatically sure of any cause, I am dead certain that human progress depends on these heretics, rebels and dreamers who have been my kin in spirit and whose 'holy discontent' has challenged established authority."

One reason lawyers and doctors are "overly concerned with their professional incomes" is that they often leave law and med school processed to think that way. Exceptions are found. Georgetown University Law Center has a program that encourages students to go into public-interest or poverty law. Repayment of loans from the university or government will be deferred and in some cases canceled for those who work after graduation for such groups as the Legal Services Corporation or the ACLU.

The Georgetown program -- one of the few in the country -- has the same goal as the AMA and ABA editorials: rallying professionals to the idea that they have missions, not mere careers. Lawyers and doctors who are bored in their thirties, burned out in their forties and hanging on for early retirement in their fifties are, odds on, the ones who dupe themselves into thinking a high salary equals high satisfaction.

It doesn't -- not in law, medicine or any other calling or job. A bond of inner joy connects those who give 50 hours a year, or 500 hours, as many do. They have joined the force of their professional skills with the force found in the truth of Albert Schweitzer, one of the three or four most influential doctors of the 20th century: "No one has the right to take for granted his own advantages over others in health, in talents, in ability, in success, in a happy childhood or congenial home conditions. One must pay a price for all these boons. What one owes in return is a special responsibility for other lives."