More than 20 years after the initiation of the Legal Services program for the poor, conservatives still object to the filing of class actions by Legal Services lawyers {"N.H. Lawyer Named by Bush to Board of Legal Services," news story, Aug. 7}. Yet the utility of the class-action device as a means of vindicating the rights of numerous persons similarly situated should need no defense. As the American Bar Association has stated, "Legal Services programs must make the most of their limited resources. One essential way of doing so is to bring class actions in carefully selected cases. In many cases, a class-action suit seeking declaratory and/or injunctive relief is fairer, faster and more efficient than an endless series of suits on behalf of similarly situated individual clients."

Most important, the record of Legal Services in class-action litigation is impressive. In numerous cases, paramount rights of Legal Services clients have been protected in matters pertaining to health care, education, welfare benefits, housing and Social Security benefits.

In a nationwide class action brought by Legal Services attorneys involving the rights of Social Security beneficiaries, Califano v. Yamasaki, the U.S. Supreme Court observed that "the class-action device saves the resources of both the courts and the parties by permitting an issue potentially affecting every Social Security beneficiary to be litigated in an economical fashion."

Class actions are universally recognized by lawyers and the judiciary as uniquely effective in a variety of situations. Some of these include actions that challenge conduct that harms large numbers of persons where the costs of a lawsuit on behalf of a single aggrieved person would far exceed any recovery, where the claim of a single plaintiff may become moot, when defendants may be subjected to inconsistent decisions or when defendants decline to comply with a decision brought on behalf of only an individual.

Moreover, class actions are carefully regulated by federal and state statutes as well as Legal Services Corporation regulations, which empower the courts to determine the propriety of a pleaded class action and, of course, whether the action has merit and warrants the award of any relief.

Simply stated, class-action lawsuits are an integral part of our legal system and are an important option for lawyers seeking to represent the best interests of their clients. Barring Legal Services lawyers from bringing class actions would make no sense legally, ethically or practically and is in no one's best interest -- unless one is opposed to providing the poor with an essential and effective tool to protect their legal rights. DAVID C. LEVEN Executive Director Prisoners' Legal Services of New York New York