Attorney, Professor, and Mentor

Attorney, Professor, and Mentor

David B. Wilkins

David B. Wilkins, '73

“Approachable,” “caring,” “deeply admired,” “unconditional empathy,” and “unparalleled mentorship” are some of the words used to describe the exceptional legal profession of Lab alumnus David B. Wilkins, ’73, during the Harvard Law School’s Class of 2020 virtual graduation ceremony. Wilkins was chosen for a second time, the first time being in 1998, as the Class of 2020 Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence recipient. 

“Look for work that engages your whole self, and then throw your whole self into it. If you do, I have no doubt of the amazing things that you will achieve for yourselves and for our world,” Wilkins told the graduating class. 

According to a 2013 interview with The History Makers, Wilkins developed an interest in debate during his time at Lab. He was born in Chicago in 1956 and has a family background in the legal field—his father, among several other family members, were all attorneys. He completed various clerkships including one with the United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall from 1981–1982. Currently the Lester Kissel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and vice dean of the Center on the Legal Profession, he graduated from Harvard University in 1977, and from Harvard Law School with honors in 1980. He joined Harvard’s faculty in 1986 and received tenure in 1992, where he became the fourth African American tenured professor at the Harvard Law School and sixth in the history of the college.

During a February visit to IE University Law School’s recently established LawAhead Center on the Legal Profession, Wilkins recently discussed the issues of sustainability, stakeholders, and social justice. “The future of legal work will be shaped by the interplay between the forces of continuity and change,” he told an audience of law firm executives in Madrid.

“Lab still remains the most important educational experience of my life,” Wilkins says. “Great teachers like Earl Bell provided the foundation for everything I have done since. And so many of the people I met during my time as a Lab Lifer continue to be among my closest friends.”

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