Those attending a Harvard Law School Alumni Association debate yesterday on the independent counsel law heard an opinion from Elliot L. Richardson, who resigned as President Richard M. Nixon's attorney general rather than fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the "Saturday Night Massacre."

Richardson spoke up in response to a comment by Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton, who said he had warned Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) -- both would-be presidents -- that their administrations would suffer under the unfairnesses of the independent counsel law.

Richardson said he was "absolutely shocked" by Bolton's remark. "For God's sake, are we not entitled to hope that the next administration will be a little less sleazy?" Richardson said, to roars of laughter from the audience of lawyers.Back to His Legal Roots . . .

Former CIA director William E. Colby has come out of the cold of international consulting work to join the Washington office of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvina, a large New York law firm. Colby, who began his career as an associate at Donovan Leisure from 1947 to 1949, headed the Central Intelligence Agency from 1973 to 1976. Bilingual Chief Named . . .

Education Secretary William J. Bennett has named Alicia Coro, former acting assistant secretary for civil rights, to head the department's bilingual education office. Coro succeeds Carol P. Whitten, who held the post since April 1985.

Bilingual education has been a subject of bitter controversy recently. Bennett favors allowing school districts to spend more of their federal funding on programs that do not require native language instruction.

Coro, a native of Havana and a former teacher, is no stranger to controversy. In her 18 months overseeing the department's civil rights office, she was at the center of heated disputes over higher education desegregation and revelations that staff members had backdated documents to comply with federal court requirements.