Lawyers for Oliver L. North and three other Iran-Contra criminal defendants say they won't be ready for trial until March 1989, after President Reagan leaves office.

In the first pretrial hearing in the case, the defense team's proposed schedule was sharply at odds with that of independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, who said he would be prepared for trial this July.The dispute Tuesday left the matter to U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell, who demanded a tight pre-trial schedule but warned there may be no case at all unless thousands of government documents are declassified and made available to the defense.

The nearly four hours of courtroom arguments were devoted entirely to legal questions that were crucial to the case but far removed from the web of covert operations and multimillion-dollar financial transactions detailed in the 23-count indictment.

Gone was the drama of the March 24 arraignment, when former National Security Council staffer North; ex-National Security Adviser John M. Poindexter; retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, and his business partner, Albert Hakim, pleaded innocent to the charges.

The masterminds of the secret U.S. arms sales to Iran and assistance to the Nicaraguan Contra reb-els during congressional prohibitions are charged with running those operations as a broad criminal conspiracy.

A federal grand jury charged them with defrauding the government and then trying to cover up their alleged crimes. North, Secord and Hakim were accused of personally enriching themselves from the Iran-Contra affair.