The Justice Department charged yesterday that the Law School Admission Test, required by 196 law schools, is unfair to the physically disabled because they are denied extra time to take it.

The department's civil rights division filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against the Law School Admission Council, which administers the half-day standardized test of reading and verbal reasoning skills to 104,000 law school applicants annually.

The government alleges that the council violated the Americans With Disabilities Act when it denied four people with physical disabilities, including cerebral palsy and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, extra time on the multiple-choice portion of the test.

The disabilities law requires private firms and organizations that give admission tests for postsecondary schooling to offer those exams in a place and manner that will accurately reflect the applicant's ability and aptitude for the training or career they seek rather than reflecting the person's disability. Adjusting the time for the test is a common modification for the disabled, the government said.

Philip D. Shelton, the council's president and executive director, said from Newtown, Pa., that he could not respond specifically to the government's lawsuit because he had not seen it.

"However, we believe we have fully complied with the letter and spirit of the ADA in dealing with the individuals about whom we have been talking with the Department of Justice for more than a year."