About 18 months ago, shortly after the younger of them turned 60, two veteran Northern Virginia lawyers said they decided it was time to have some fun.

That's when Louis Koutoulakos, 66, and Albert J. Ahern, 61, joined styles -- one gruff, one grandfatherly -- to become one of the most unlikely and successful defense teams in the Washington area.

"They are known throughout the region," said William D. Dolan, an Arlington attorney and former president of the Virginia State Bar. "They have handled some of the most difficult cases in the past 30 years."

Fresh from two recent major victories in Alexandria Circuit Court -- acquittals in two well-publicized cases, a murder-for-hire and a felonious assault case -- Ahern smiled and said: "We are sort of on a roll, aren't we?"

Said Koutoulakos: "We're doing so well together we're thinking of getting a marriage license."

Some of Koutoulakos' past celebrated cases include acquittals of former Alexandria prosecutor William L. Cowhig on bribery charges and a D.C. policeman on a rape charge. Ahern represented Elizabeth Ray, whom former Ohio representative Wayne L. Hays kept on the public payroll to be his mistress.

Although the two men still maintain separate law offices, they began collaborating on criminal cases last year.

Distinguished from other lawyers by their folksy manner and lower-than-usual fees (because "we grew up poor," Koutoulakos said), they also present an unusual combination of gruffness and old-fashioned gentility.

"They have a good guy, bad guy approach," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert H. Horan Jr. While Koutoulakos is "raising Cain," Horan said, Ahern is coming across "like the milk of human kindness."

Ahern, who refers to himself as a "New England Irishman," deals largely with fine points of the law and preparing jury arguments. Having spent much time in federal appeals court, he argued a 1970 rape case in the District that led to the landmark decision that made building owners liable for offenses on their property that occurred because of faulty security.

Koutoulakos, the son of Greek immigrants who grew up in Brooklyn, seems to specialize in riling and shouting at government witnesses.

In the October murder-for-hire case in which Alexandria businessman Frederick Ramsay was accused of hiring three men to kill his partner, Koutoulakos effectively destroyed the credibility of the admitted gunmen who were testifying against his client by constantly referring to them as "convicted thugs."

Throughout the trial he would not say he thought witnesses were lying; instead he used an expression sure to stick more in the jury's mind: "You're not going to believe that applesauce, are you?"

"I'm not part of the silk-stocking crowd like my friend Plato Cacheris," Koutoulakos said about the well-known defense attorney who has recently been advising alleged spies.

"I deal with the murderers and the cutters," Koutoulakos said. ". . . I'm not a rich downtown lawyer who uses 60-cent words . . . I don't think you have to dress in a three-piece suit or wear gold cuff links to be effective."

Some prosecutors say Koutoulakos, a former Arlington prosecutor, steps out of bounds and tries to testify for his client himself. They say he doesn't simply ask witnesses questions, but throws in his own interpretation of their answers and then adds extraneous remarks, which juries remember even if a judge strikes the comments from the court record.

Horan says he knows prosecutors get frustrated because Koutoulakos walks the fine line between being an aggressive advocate and breaching courtroom rules. "Like a good football player, a good defense attorney gets away with anything he can," the prosecutor said.

"He tries to testify," Horan said. "He's a noisemaker. His style is to raise hell and fuss with the witnesses."

"Although Mr. Koutoulakos is sometimes overcome by his desire to testify for his client," said Randolph Sengel, Alexandria's deputy commonwealth's attorney, "he and Mr. Ahern both possess penetrating insight into legal issues and human nature."

Fittingly, some would say, the two lawyers first met over a rarely adjudicated topic: a French love affair.

Ahern represented a French woman desperately in love with an American Navy officer who spurned her after their overseas affair. Koutoulakos advised the married officer, who wanted a court order to stop the woman from following him to work, church, everywhere.

"That was a funny case," Koutoulakos said. "We had a lot of fun. Al and I were slugging it out."

Each attorney still claims he won that case, with Koutoulakos emphasizing the judge's order that barred the French woman from being near the officer, and Ahern recalling that the officer was ordered to pay the woman $1 because he had his former mistress falsely arrested.

After that case, "so long ago I can't remember the date," the two men became good friends, Ahern said.

A 1950 graduate of Georgetown University Law School, Ahern lives in Alexandria with his wife of 32 years, Suzanne. One of their four children, Elizabeth, 22, attends the University of Virginia Law School, but Ahern says he has dissuaded her from following in his footsteps into criminal law.

"There's other types of law she can do," he said. "This business can get messy . . . depressing sometimes, the types of people you're dealing with. You're fighting something all the time."

Koutoulakos, a divorced father of two, has worked in the same Arlington office for 30 years. He joined the Navy when he was 17, and after spending about two years with a submarine squadron, he joined the Air Force shortly before World War II.

Because of a head injury he switched from flight training to counterintelligence and was dispatched to India, he said.

When he returned home in the early 1940s, Koutoulakos said he repaired torpedoes at the Alexandria Torpedo Factory while he worked toward his undergraduate degree at George Washington University. In 1951, he graduated from GWU law school.

Asked if he regretted losing a 1972 bid for an Arlington Circuit Court judgeship, Koutoulakos shook his head. It's fairly obvious, he said, that Charles H. Duff, who beat him by a single vote, 124 to 123, "has more of a judicial temperament."

Brooke Howard, 84, considered by many the dean of Northern Virginia defense attorneys, said Ahern and Koutoulakos have what many young attorneys do not: a good handle on the law. In addition, he said, they have what he does not: 70 years of trial experience between them.