The Justice Department's Civil Division has been forced to defend a "phenomenal" number of claims against the government for medical problems allegedly caused by exposure to toxic substances, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard K. Willard recently told the House Judiciary subcommittee on administrative law and governmental relations.

The most marked increase among the "toxic torts," as the claims are known in the division, involve health problems allegedly caused by asbestos. Some claims are filed by people who work in government buildings. Others are filed by companies that say they installed asbestos according to government standards and therefore the government should be responsible for medical claims filed against them.

Willard said that department lawyers are handling more than 2,700 asbestos cases in 31 federal district courts and the U.S. Claims Court. Asbestos, once widely used for insulation, acoustics and fireproofing, can scar lung tissue, causing asbestosis and other diseases, including cancer, researchers have found. HELP WANTED

The Criminal Division is looking for 33 lawyers with three to five years' experience as practicing attorneys, preferably as prosecutors, according to M. Miles Matthews, the division's director of administration.

Many of the openings in the division, which has 354 lawyers, were created as a result of last year's Comprehensive Crime Control Act. Among other new responsibilities, division lawyers must attend hearings on whether to detain without bail certain federal defendants who are considered dangerous. SPOKESMAN SEARCH . . .

Attorney General Ed Meese III still is searching for a spokesman, according to department sources. Meanwhile, Thomas P. DeCair continues to perform the job he held under former attorney general William French Smith.

Judith A. Pond, who was DeCair's deputy public affairs director, recently moved to the Federal Trade Commission as public affairs director. NOT JOB HUNTING . . .

FBI Director William H. Webster recently was asked whether he'd like to be considered for the job of dean of Washington University Law School in St. Louis. But Webster, who received his law degree there, said no thanks. "He has no current plans to leave his job," FBI spokesman Bill Baker said. TRADE SHOW. . .

Staff members of the Bureau of Prisons held a "trade show" last week at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. They showed U.S. procurement officials the range of items federal prisoners make, including furniture, lamps and towels, according to J.R. Johnson, an executive officer in the bureau's prison industries section. They then took orders, adding to the $15 million annual net earnings.