FOR THOSE not hip to L.A. writer Michael Connelly's series of crime books, "The Lincoln Lawyer" refers to a defense attorney who operates out of his limo.

The lawyer in question is Micky Haller, who wheels and deals on the freeway as he's ferried to various precinct jails and courtrooms, trying to keep lower-rung biker/dealer clients out of prison.

Connelly's lived-in characters have the reportorial feel of observed truth, captured in this gritty adaptation by (Lafayette Hill native) Brad Furman.

He gets a focused performance from the sometimes wifty Matthew McConaughey, who plays Haller as a cocky, ethically flexible fellow who drinks a little too much and likes a plea bargain as much as an acquittal, maybe more.

Haller's a bit stunned, then, to be offered the job of defending a Beverly Hills swell - an arrogant playboy (Ryan Phillippe) accused of beating a woman to death.

Why Haller? He knows the streets, as well as every bondsman and bailiff in the county. In short order, his savvy investigator (William H. Macy) has enough contradictory evidence to hamper the case of the dogged district attorney (Josh Lucas).

It's the first of many twists and turns - Furman works skillfully here to control the narrative details of Connelly's complex procedural, while managing his top-notch cast.

Marisa Tomei turns up as Haller's ex-wife and information pipeline to the D.A.'s office, Bryan Cranston is a lawyer-hating cop, Frances Fisher the defendant's icy mother, and there are small-but-vivid supporting roles for John Leguizamo and Michael Pena.

Connelly's book is probably too intricate for clean transfer to screen, but Furman does a good job honing in on the story's main spine - Haller mustering all of his rule-bending magic to escape a diabolical legal straitjacket.

"Lincoln Lawyer" is a no-frills legal drama delivered by a team of pros, and it's nice to see McConaughey bring his A game for a change.