`LA. Law'' is now in its eighth season, and one of the cold hard facts about life at McKenzie, Brackman, Becker, Kelsey, Markowitz & Morales is that associate attorneys tend to come and go.
The NBC series has weathered many cast changes, and earlier this season several new characters were introduced, including one of a type that is rarely seen on network television.
The new character is Jane Halliday, a fundamentalist Christian attorney (a ``nonjudgmental'' fundamentalist, according to the publicity).
Halliday is played by Alexandra Powers, who is surprised by the fuss that has been made over her portrayal.
``It didn't really occur to me that playing a Christian woman would cause all this reaction,'' she says while tearing into a hamburger at a restaurant in the fashionable Brentwood section of Los Angeles.
``I didn't realize that there were practically no religious characters on television that were depicted in a positive light,'' she says.
Powers had no time to prepare for the role, since she found out she been given the part a mere two days before reporting for filming.
She had no specific knowledge about fundamentalist Christianity, but she did reread the Bible so that she would be more familiar with the Scripture that her character quotes so often.
She says about her own religious beliefs: ``I don't have any specific ties to any particular denomination. My father was Catholic, my mother is metaphysical. So I had these very different spectrums to draw from. It's not that easy to define, but I just read that Hillary Clinton says she is still trying to figure out exactly how she can define her belief in God. So I feel better - I can't explain myself perfectly, but neither can she, and she's the First Lady.''
Nonetheless, Powers was concerned that the character would maintain her integrity. She was assured by executive producer William Finkelstein that the character would not be exploited or used as a butt for jokes.
Powers says that she now loves the part. ``After I started playing her, I thought it was great to play a woman who really loves God, who is faithful to her beliefs, but who isn't weak, isn't a victim, isn't meek or humble. This girl speaks her mind.''
But occasionally the character's religious beliefs can lead her into trouble in the courtroom or with her co-workers.
Recent episodes had Jane making a bad judgment in court and clashing with Denise (another new character, played by Debi Mazar) about her wearing of the cross as a fashion statement.
``I really like that she's a young lawyer,'' the actress stresses, ``that she messes up, and has to learn. They're not writing a caricature. They're giving her an opportunity to try things and make mistakes.''
Another plot development is Jane's relationship with the lecherous Arnie Becker (played by Corbin Bernsen). It was an aspect of Jane's character that Powers found particularly intriguing.
``He's quoting Scripture to try and seduce her,'' she comments. ``It could be offensive. But I think she's very comfortable with who she is, and she's strong in her beliefs. And she has a sense of humor. So she sees right through him. And she's actually pleased that he's reading the Bible. Whether he knows it or not, that's bringing him closer to God. Maybe he'll change.''
Powers was given no biography for her character, except for the fact that Jane comes from Oklahoma, so she had to constuct one herself. How, as she sees it, did Jane Halliday become a lawyer?
``The only thing I could come up with is that if the Bible is the word of God, the closest to doing that on Earth is to be involved with the law of man.''
She also decided that she would wear a long blond wig. ``I didn't want to give this message that every woman who steps into a workplace to compete with men cuts her hair short. It was important for me that the character keep her femininity,'' she says.
This is Powers's first series, although she is no stranger to show business. Her mother was a television writer for such series as ``Charlie's Angels'' and ``Fantasy Island,'' and Powers was all of six when she said she wanted to act and asked for an agent.
Her first television role was in the landmark movie ``The Day After,'' about a nuclear holocaust. She's been seen in such films as ``Mask'' and ``Dead Poets Society.''
Many of her roles have been decidedly different from her current one. She recently played a prostitute in the film ``Rising Sun.'' Before starting ``L.A. Law,'' she gave a memorable performance as a scheming murderer in the miniseries ``A Matter of Justice.''
Playing Jane has been an eye-opening experience. ``I consider myself to be fairly liberal,'' she says, ``but the closer I get to her the more I see what I have in common with her.
``The liberal view has taken over television and film, and I think it's nice to have a more conservative view on display.''
Discussing Jane's future, she adds, ``I would imagine that at some point her professional and moral beliefs will clash, and that's when we'll discover what she's really about. What's really important.''
Powers pauses, and then smiles. ``My guess is God.''