Cory McKenna said educators spotted his potential to succeed in the field of law when he was still young.

“I was always talking to my classmates and trying to answer every question, basically being a know-it-all,” he said. “And my teacher said I would make a great lawyer.”

McKenna is now an attorney with Fairfield & Associates in Portland who specializes in criminal defense. His work brings him face to face with clients who have been accused of crimes and may have no one else to turn to for help.

“I do a lot of court-appointed criminal defense,” he said, adding that many cases involve defendants who are poverty-stricken, mentally ill or have serious substance-abuse problems. “Not all criminal defense is arguing legal issues. A lot of it is about getting people connected to the services they need, and about having someone on their side.”

McKenna believes strongly that every American accused of a crime has the right to legal representation. He said being a defense lawyer is rewarding because it involves defending the principles of the Constitution on a regular basis.

However, the job can be stressful, he said. Some cases drag on for years. It’s important not to lose faith in the legal system.

“I don’t know how you would do this if you didn’t believe in the system,” he said.

McKenna said one of the big advantages to being an attorney is the ability to find work in any community that suits your lifestyle.

“I picked my law school (University of Maine) because of Portland and the state of Maine,” the Boston native said.

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