When Robert J. Dole began entertaining job offers from law and lobbying firms in December, few bidders brought as much to the table as the partners at Washington's Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand.

It wasn't just the pay or perks, though they offered plenty of both, including a $600,000-a-year salary and a 10-room suite of offices. What truly set the firm apart was its long list of marquee partners. For the past four years no firm in Washington's sprawling influence business has spent more money and energy luring big-name ex-politicians.

Verner Liipfert counts among its ranks former treasury secretary Lloyd Bentsen, former Texas governor Ann Richards, former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell, former Michigan governor James Blanchard and former Hawaii governor John Waihee. In April, Dole's name was added to the roster.

"I was recently kidding Mitchell that it would help if he would take care of Leader {Dole's dog} during the day," Dole said in a recent interview, clearly reveling in his expansive new digs and the proximity of old friends. "I'm a little crowded down here."

Call it the Lollapalooza strategy. Like the annual star-studded music festival, Verner Liipfert is betting that gathering enough superstars under one roof will raise the firm's profile and draw a crowd of corporate clients. It's no coincidence that the leadership of the law firm refers to Dole and others as "our rock stars."

In theory, the luminaries bring with them Rolodexes the size of bus wheels and a breadth of knowledge one can get only by spending years at the highest echelons of government. Their jobs are to "make rain," which means bringing in millions of dollars' worth of billable hours each year for themselves and the firm's 168 other lawyers and lobbyists.

"My motto is a client a day,' " Dole said.

Arriving at 9 a.m. each day at a fourth-floor office overlooking McPherson Square, Dole has taken on a quintessentially Washington role: the behind-the-scenes problem solver. Though most of his time is spent meeting and greeting executives, he also provides strategic advice to corporations trying to navigate the Senate's tangled folkways. He declines to lobby directly, but frequently gives advice to those at the firm who do.

That's a service many clients might eagerly pay for, but Verner Liipfert's approach to building name recognition is hardly sure-fire, experts and competitors say.

Plenty of ex-politicians never cut it on K Street, either because they quickly tire of glad-handing corporate chief executives or find the cachet of their name is a commodity that fades fast. Others arrive with scores of highly placed contacts but are unable to translate those connections into dollars for their firms. Walter Mondale, who became a partner at Washington's Winston & Strawn after serving as vice president, is one of many former politicians who entered private practice and never became a major league rainmaker, Washington law firm consultant Jay Jaffe said.

"There have got to be a hundred ex-congressmen around town who sit at law firms and have maybe one or two clients from their home district and that's about it," Jaffe said. "In the vast majority of cases, these guys just don't work out."

Complicating matters, big shots typically fetch big salaries and usually insist on bringing with them a retinue of former aides. To get Dole, for example, Verner Liipfert agreed to hire two top aides from his Senate days: Vicki Hart, who handled health care issues in the majority leader's office, and Dennis Shea, his former deputy chief of staff. "It's sort of like they say, Love me, and love my dog,' and the dog comes along whether he's good or not," said Fred Moring, a partner at Crowell & Moring, one of many Washington firms that didn't vie for Dole's services. "It's a package, only part of which has any political fame."

Berl Bernhard, Verner Liipfert's graying, gravel-voiced chairman, acknowledges that some of his recent acquisitions are performing better than others, but he said the overall approach has been a financial triumph. The main challenge is trying to give directions to people who aren't accustomed to being told what to do. "It's a headache," he said with a chuckle, "but it works."

Revenue is expected to total about $55 million this year, he said, nearly double the firm's 1990 figure. Last year, Legal Times listed Verner Liipfert as the third-highest-grossing lobbying shop in the city, with more than $6 million in billings. Only Cassidy & Associates Inc. and Patton Boggs earned more from lobbying.

Nonetheless, profit growth at the firm will lag behind that of revenue, Bernhard said, in large part because of the steep cost of installing so many celebrated partners. Dole, for instance, is a significant expense for the firm. In addition to paying his salary plus any year-end bonuses he might earn, Verner Liipfert is shelling out for Dole's driver and secretary, as well as subsidizing a staff of 10 who are working on some of the former senator's pet civic projects, including fund-raising for the World War II Memorial.

But few players in the political access business more seriously embrace the age-old maxim that it takes money to make money. Among law firms, Verner Liipfert has become one of the largest contributors to political action committees and the campaign coffers of legislators, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the last election season, the firm gave $684,354, nearly $200,000 more than in the 1993-94 cycle.

Bernhard said the money spent on the "rock stars" already is paying off. Dole has brought in a number of blue-chip clients, Bernhard said, though he would not drop names. Bentsen, who spends most of his time in the firm's Houston office, is registered to lobby for Shell Oil Co., among others, and has helped generate business for the firm in Latin America. Richards, who does not have a law degree, has lured Lockheed Martin Corp., the Bethesda-based defense giant, and has registered to lobby on behalf of Motorola Inc., NBC and McDonnell Douglas Corp., to name a few clients.

More controversially, the firm, for the first time, began working for "Big Tobacco" after all five major cigarette makers sought out George Mitchell late last year. Now Verner Liipfert is spearheading efforts to sell the global tobacco settlement to both Congress and the Clinton administration, and earning about $200,000 a month for its services, according to the National Journal. Mitchell has not lobbied on this issue, but has advised named partner Harry McPherson and Bernhard before their many trips to Capitol Hill to pitch the proposed settlement to legislators. Getting Noticed

Verner Liipfert, founded in 1960, is top-heavy with former Johnson administration officials and has old and deep roots in the Democratic Party. McPherson was White House counsel to LBJ and a former assistant secretary of state. Bernhard, who directed Edmund Muskie's campaign for president in 1972, served as special adviser to Dean Rusk, Johnson's secretary of state.

The firm's leadership decided to start collecting more Washington personalities four years ago, after some high-level thinking about ways to cut a wider swath in town. Verner Liipfert focused for much of the 1970s and 1980s on transportation and regulatory issues. By the early 1990s, however, deregulation had erased much of that work and the explosion of law and lobbying firms in D.C. was making it harder to draw in new customers.

"We were kind of a quiet law firm for a long time, with a regional reputation," said Clinton Vince, co-chairman of Verner Liipfert's executive committee. "We wanted something that would launch us nationally."

Hiring notables, Vince and his partners reasoned, was a shortcut to getting noticed. First on board was Blanchard, then came Waihee, and the others soon followed. By the time Dole hit the market, the firm was hunting for a Republican to give the place bipartisan appeal.

What does Dole do all day to justify his salary and staff? It's simpler to say what he doesn't do. He does not practice law in the sense of going to court or filing briefs, tasks he hasn't performed since he left Russell, Kan., 36 years ago.

"I'm on the fourth floor," he said. "The real lawyers are on the fifth, sixth and seventh floors."

Nor does he lobby, a job he said he won't do, even though the legally mandated one-year moratorium against lobbying former colleagues has expired.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with it. You have the right and all that constitutional stuff," he said. "But seems to me that after you've been the leader for 11 years, to go back up there to Capitol Hill and say to former colleagues, Hey, could you give me a little lift on this?' -- well, I don't think I should do that."

Instead, Dole dispenses wisdom to the firm's legion of lobbyists. In July, for instance, the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported that Dole and Mitchell had been enlisted by Chicago-based underwear giant Fruit of the Loom to help eliminate the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a provision in the tax bill that would have canceled tariffs on imports from 23 nations. The firm would not specify Dole's role, aside from stating that he provided strategic advice.

To critics of Washington's lobbying laws, Dole's brief private-sector career already demonstrates how departed legislators can function as lobbyists without ever getting on the phone to ask for favors. The truly gifted rainmakers in this town don't leave fingerprints, said Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity.

"The distinctions involved here are a little bit murky," Lewis said. "Dole brought with him a couple of staffers who aren't under the same restrictions that he is as a retired member. For those people -- or anyone else at the firm -- to be able to call a lawmaker and say, I'm working for Bob Dole,' that's hugely valuable."

Meanwhile, Dole is busily making the rounds at receptions and cocktail parties and recommending Verner Liipfert lawyers whenever possible. As the firm's star attraction, his job is occasionally like that of a monument on a sightseeing tour. Verner Liipfert lawyers frequently make detours to his office suite to introduce their clients, even if they have no business with him.

It's a long way from Kansas, the place Dole vowed he would go if he lost the election in November. But it's a place, he says, where he feels connected and productive.

"I can keep in touch with what's happening. I'm out there meeting people I've known over the years; it keeps me busy, and I like it," he said.

Signing off with a rainmaker's flourish, he added, "Ever need a lawyer, give us a call." Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report. CAPTION: Dole at his office: "My motto is a client a day.' " CAPTION: Lloyd Bentsen and Ann Richards are among the stars hired by Verner Liipfert.