Now comes G. Allen Dale and the slick-o-meter is rising.

From the top of his $30 haircut to the pointy toes of his polished cowboy boots, Dale -- a dapper young Washington criminal lawyer whose client list looks like the U.S. District Court's celebrity roster -- exudes a kind of creamy Southern charm and prime-time patina that belies his beginnings as a court-appointed attorney and member of that rumpled rat-pack known as "Fifth Street lawyers." The Tom Selleck mustache, the Michael Douglas chin, the thigh-hugging tailored trousers and form-fitting white shirt -- you've seen them on television so much in the last few weeks, he should have his own show. Dale for the Defense. Or his own PR firm. Dale on the Offense. He even gets his hair cut at a Capitol Hill place called Headlines Salon.

"I'd be ly-an to you to tell you I didn't enjoy the attention," he drawls. "I'd be ly-an to you if I told you it wasn't doing a thing for me, because one case breeds another. The press has been good to me."

And the ongoing corruption probe into the D.C. government has been very good for Allen Dale. Besides Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, the high-profile plastic surgeon-author who is now serving a jail sentence for refusing to allow her ex-husband to visit their 5-year-old daughter (Morgan accused him of sexually abusing the child), Dale's client list includes a number of players in the current investigation, including D.C. Metropolitan Police officer James Whitaker Jr. (placed on "noncontact status" pending the outcome of an investigation into corruption in the 4th District Vice Squad) and Herbert Young, a city contractor and longtime friend of Mayor Marion Barry, arrested for distributing cocaine and accused of thwarting a federal probe into contracting irregularities.

Last Friday, the 36-year-old lawyer with the Windex-blue eyes was back on the news next to his star client, convicted cocaine dealer Karen Johnson, who has allegedly told a grand jury that she sold cocaine to Barry and accepted hush money from associates of the mayor.

How can he represent an associate of Barry's as well as the mayor's chief accuser? Dale's detractors grouse about a possible conflict of interest, but the lawyer says each case is separate.

"There's no conflict because I think Barry would disagree that Young is a friend," says Dale. He characterizes the two cases as "two totally separate areas" of the investigation.

His detractors are also disturbed by his habit of taking cases to the press. There's no doubt he knows how to get a story out, and he has sometimes been accused of leaking sensitive information.

"My job is to do what's best for my client," he says. "Sometimes it would mean strategic leaking."

Reporters on the receiving end of such tips tend to overlook his motives. "He's like Rhett Butler," says one courthouse reporter. "A little bit of a scoundrel. He's got some bravado, which turns some people off but it also makes him a pretty good lawyer."

His clients seem to love him. "He's an extraordinarily good person," says Dr. Elizabeth Morgan from the D.C. Jail where she has been incarcerated for the last six weeks. "He's not a quitter. He doesn't give up." (Dale's firm is one of four teams of lawyers representing Morgan.)

The judges, not normally given to hyperbole, also seem to love him. U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin recently told a reporter that Allen Dale was "the next Edward Bennett Williams."

Even the enemy seems to love him.

"Highly competent and honest," is how U.S. Attorney Joseph di Genova, who is responsible for the D.C. probe, describes him. "He's very capable and a nice guy," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Chapman. "He's a straight shooter."

More methodical than mercurial, he is known for his diligence and long working hours, often getting to the office by 7 a.m. and not leaving until 7, taking work home with him. He claims to work seven days a week, and never takes lunch. He returns phone calls with uncharacteristic speed.

"He leaves no stone unturned," says Cynthia Clarke Dale, a Washington patent attorney who married Dale five years ago. They have since separated.

"I think Allen is uncomfortable not working," says Cynthia Lobo, his law partner and friend.

Ambitious, obsessive, a perfectionist, he seems to revel in high-profile cases. "Whenever there's a reporter or camera around, life becomes his stage," says one local television journalist. But Dale is certainly not alone in pursuing the media. "He has a corner on the white-collar crime in this city," marvels Washington lawyer John Coale, often criticized for his own brand of self-promotion and ambulance-chasing. "As long as he doesn't get into mass disasters," Coale said with a laugh, "I like him."

So what does Allen Dale, who has been known to jokingly answer the phone "Committee to Elect Allen Dale Mayor," really want?

"I'm not politically motivated," he says, crossing his legs and lighting a low-tar cigarette. "I am not under any circumstances running for mayor. I don't have the ego to be a mayor."

He is sitting in his G Street office. It is tastefully decorated, if a bit formal. There are no piles of briefs or files or scribbled legal pads in sight. Instead, the white walls and architecturally correct detailing exude a glossy-magazine quality. The room, like Allen Dale's polished persona, is perfect.

"He likes beautiful things," says his estranged wife, who calls Dale "a very private, complicated man."

There are fresh flowers in a vase and an expensive oriental on the floor. "After I bought the building, I came in and designed the blueprints. It was more fun than practicing law."

But, Dale insists, "I'm not flash. There's a lot of country in me."

Who would play him in the movie?

He laughs. "A young Jimmy Stewart."

He insists that his clients call him Mr. Dale, just like it says on the shiny brass plaque on his door. He is concerned with appearances, always wearing a white shirt and dark suit. The cowboy boots are his one eccentricity. He is also a man so aware of image that he abruptly ditches his cigarette while a photographer snaps his picture. "I never smoke on TV or in public," he drawls. "It just looks bad, I think."

"He understands what it takes to make an image," says Lobo. "And he does it very well. He's almost as good at it as Reagan is, in his own way."

"I like to take care of myself," Dale says. "For health reasons, I like to be fit." He rises every morning at 4:30 a.m. and works out in the gym he had built in his restored Dupont Circle Victorian. "God gave me whatever looks I have. I don't particularly think they're good. If I had a magic wand, I'd change my nose, I'd change ..." His voice trails off to laughter.

He knows his chiseled features ("bloody stunning," says Lobo) haven't hurt his career. "In TV it would have to help. If they think I'm well-packaged, they're going to show me. I dress the way I dress because I like to be neat. I think my office is neat. Everything has to be in a place. My home is that way. For me, if everything has its place, it's easier for me. I like to think that carries over to my work. I work to make sure things are perfect."

There is a Boy Scout aura about Dale. "I lived through the Watergate era when lawyers disgraced other lawyers. The legal profession right now is not looked upon highly. People look at lawyers who are sleazos and take your money." He says he is trying to change the "perceived imperfection in the profession, which I don't want to be a part of."

Why is he so driven?

"It's not money. It's not power. There's no power in being a lawyer. There's a lawyer for every 25 people in this town. I enjoy doing what I do, which is criminal law."

What motivates him, he says, is simple. "My drive is to be the best."

Would he ever turn down a client?

"We may be hired guns, but it doesn't mean you forsake your values," he says. "There are certain people I would not represent."

Would he take the mayor as a client?

"No, I would not."

He was born in Morganton, N.C., March 19, 1951. His mother, he says, named him after the actor Alan Ladd. He was an only child and his parents, he says, were hard-working people who never finished high school. (The Rhett Butler image has also spawned rumors that his parents were moonshiners. He denies this, but does confirm that the family went from rags to riches when it got into real estate. His father, he says, is now a very wealthy man.)

Dale attended public schools and was interested in sports. He always wanted a sibling. "You have to understand, it's very lonely." He describes himself then as "a typical insecure, immature high school student who had to work very hard to make good grades. One of the reasons for my success, if indeed I have success, is hard work."

After high school, Dale graduated from Appalachian State University, a small liberal arts college in Boone, N.C. He took a year off working in politics, then came to Washington and attended Georgetown University Law School, graduating in 1977.

A strong Democrat, he dabbled in politics, but decided against it as a career. "I think it takes a special type of person. It's an ego trip and the pay isn't great. And you can never look somebody in the face and say, 'You're an S.O.B.' "

As lawyer, "I tell people exactly what I think. It probably gets me in trouble a lot of times. But I say it to their face, not behind their back."

After law school, he rented an office near the D.C. courthouse and "hung out a shingle. There weren't any clients coming through the door. The first couple of years of my practice were lean."

He decided against becoming a prosecutor, always wanting to be his own boss. He also turned down any money from his family. "I wanted to make it on my own." He brags that he has never applied to a law firm for a job. Lobo recently became a partner in his firm; they have two associates.

Confident, at times even cocky, Dale obviously loves the fight. But he also has moments of insecurity.

"I get nervous before every opening statement, and I'm sitting there with my hands wrenching and my palms sweating, but after I get the first word out, I'm all right. The joke in the office is that I cannot give a closing statement without telling the jury I'm from the South."

Indeed, this folksy, front-porch approach has paid off. "I don't try to milk it. It just comes in naturally. I try to talk to people. You've got a jury there. I talk the language they do. You probably haven't heard me use one big word. My words are one- and two-syllable words. I don't carry around a Roget's Thesaurus in my mind. People don't want to hear big words. They want you to talk to them."

Dale is not above quoting from the Bible (as he did in Elizabeth Morgan's case) and insists it's not an act. "I can just go in and be me."

His courtroom style has won him many fans. "He is the most delightful of trial attorneys," says Washington lawyer Greta Van Susteren. "He's so upbeat. It's a terrific amount of fun to try a case with him."

But Dale is deadly serious when it comes to the current investigation into city corruption. Have recent revelations saddened him?

"To answer that would characterize what I know," he says guardedly. "I'll just say if there ever came a time that I learned that public officials were corrupt, yes it shocks me. Those people are there at the will of the people, to serve the people. When you start cheating the people who put you in that office, it's sad."

In the cases of Karen Johnson and Herbert Young, Dale is a man with many secrets. "I do know a lot," he says. "I probably have a lot of secrets, but they remain with me."

As for Marion Barry, "I don't know whether he's coated with Teflon or not."