They call him the last of Alexandria's good ol' boys, the man who began his legal career in the Virginia suburbs when Republicans were nonexistent and home-town Democrats usually thrashed out the issues behind closed doors.

Alexandria City Attorney Cyril (Des) Calley, who has been advising officials since 1964, is nearing the end of his current contract, and his future at City Hall is in doubt, a sign that a new regime has taken over the city government.

"He comes from a period of the past," said former mayor Charles E. Beatley, who himself was first elected in 1967, the same year that the first Republican since Reconstruction won a City Council seat. But Beatley notes that Calley remains "connected to the powerful parts of town and that they have wanted him in there."

A tall, bearded man, Calley, 54, has been praised as one of Virginia's leading experts on municipal law. But recently some officials have criticized him for coasting on affability and tenure and being too lax, too reactive and too close to the Old Town legal establishment.

"It has been said that his advice is too conservative, that he has wanted to bring in too many consultants," and his handling of lawsuits growing out of a grand jury investigation was inadequate, said council member Redella (Del) Pepper. "But there is nobody, I mean nobody, who doesn't like Des Calley."

A father of eight children and a Georgetown University Law School graduate, Calley was an assistant city attorney from 1964 to 1976, when he ran for the first of two terms as the city's top legal adviser. It remained an elected position until 1982, when the city made the office appointive in a move some then said was designed to make Calley more accountable to the council.

Despite serving 60 days in the federal correctional facility in Allenwood, Pa., in 1973 for two counts of failing to file an income-tax return, Calley was easily elected to both terms and then appointed by the council in 1982 for a term that expires Dec. 31.

This year, with a new mayor, new city manager and the strongest Republican showing in council elections in recent memory, Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said Calley's reappointment won't be automatic.

"We are serious about the search," said Moran, a Democrat who ran as an independent. "He's been around so long, it's awkward to talk about it . . . but I think he's getting better.

"The council wants him to be more aggressive. For instance, we asked him to do a seminar on zoning, and while he wasn't enthusiastic about it, he did a good job."

City Manager Vola Lawson said that with million-dollar lawsuits commonplace and new and minority law firms demanding a slice of the $214,553 in legal fees that Calley doled out last year, the need for an independent, hard-working city attorney is greater than ever.

"Local attorneys, as well as minority attorneys, have indicated that they would like to see more of the city's business," Lawson said.

The president of the Northern Virginia Black Attorneys Association, Gerald B. Lee, said that to his knowledge the city had contracted out to only one minority lawyer in recent years. "I'm not sure how equitable the law is divided in Alexandria," Lee said.

Calley said the pressure from minorities is another sign of change, as are the increasing number of women in his office and on the City Council, and the proliferation of grievance and human rights cases.

"When I first started, my salary was $6,800," Calley said. It is now $67,300. "I was never really a part of the good ol' boy network. I didn't have any of the traditional credentials. I didn't go to Virginia schools. I didn't have my roots here. I was a newcomer from Bayonne, N.J. -- but I worked for them and was accepted by them."

Still, most Alexandria politicians think of Calley as the last of the old-timers at City Hall. Though he says he would like to be reappointed, Calley jokes about mailing "Know of any new jobs?" notes with his Christmas cards.

"He knows and grew up with the legal establishment. He's comfortable with it and cultivates that good ol' boy image," said Republican council member Robert L. Calhoun, himself a lawyer.

State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell, a Republican who says he "knows Des as well as anybody," believes Calley would be very difficult to oust because he knows the Alexandria city code better than anyone, and is well liked and respected by some of the city's most powerful individuals.

While the council is taking applicants for his job, Calley said, he hoped some of the friends he's made over the years will contact council members. "Let's just say, I hope there'll be some telephoning."