A lawyer for more than six decades, Bernard Koteen offers invaluable advice
Bernard Koteen ’40 grew up during the Great Depression and went to law school during the New Deal. “There was great emphasis by the Roosevelt administration on serving the public, so it was natural for many of my classmates and me to have that concern and begin our legal careers in public service,” said Koteen in a 2003 Bulletin interview.
After graduation, Koteen went to work for the Farm Credit Administration, where he found a way for Dutch farmers living in the Pacific Northwest to keep the mortgages on their land despite the fact that their country and its banks had been overrun by the Nazis. Koteen joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor and stayed in the military for the next four years. He then built his career in the telecommunications industry—first with the Federal Communications Commission and then at his own telecommunications law firm, Koteen & Naftalin, where the work included encouraging clients to add “significant public service programming to their broadcasts,” he says.
Since the Office of Public Interest Advising was founded in 1990, Koteen has been a strong believer in its mission and a generous funder. The office’s staff is committed to helping HLS students and alumni find public service work that fits their values and interests throughout their careers—from summer internships to full-time public interest jobs to incorporating significant pro bono work into a job in the private sector. “I have always been very enthusiastic about OPIA’s purpose of encouraging students and graduates to avail themselves of the great opportunities to participate in public service,” he says. In 2003, OPIA was renamed the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising, to recognize the depth of his support.
Koteen recalls that when he graduated from HLS, the starting salary in a government job was $2,000—only about a hundred dollars less than what law firms paid. Recognizing that today’s students face a much starker differential and much higher law school debts, Koteen has also contributed significantly to the Low Income Protection Plan, which provides debt relief to graduates in public service work. “Those who preceded us … made it possible for us to go to the law school, and we [have] both an obligation and an opportunity to help those who follow us,” he says.