David Alan Sklansky

David Alan Sklansky 1
David A. Sklansky (Photo by Jennifer Paschal)

When David Sklansky graduated from Harvard Law School in 1984, there were two things he knew for sure: He didn’t want to be a trial lawyer, and he didn’t want to be an academic. Fast-forward 30 years and his CV tells a very different story. Not only did Sklansky spend nearly a decade in the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuting white-collar criminals but he also spent the next 20 years in legal academia—first at UCLA and then at UC Berkeley. He now brings his considerable talents as a practitioner, legal scholar, and award-winning professor to SLS, where he will teach Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Evidence.

Sklansky grew up in Newport Beach, California. As an undergraduate at Berkeley, he majored in biophysics. “It turned out I loved science classes, but not the day-to-day work of a scientist,” he explains. So, in his senior year, he switched directions and applied to law school. “That had always been kind of my back-up plan,” says Sklansky, a former high school debater.

Following law school, he clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and then with Pamela Karlan [Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law] for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. Former dean Larry Kramer clerked for Justice William Brennan during that same term.

Clerking ignited an unexpected interest in prosecution. “I got angry at lawyers—specifically prosecutors,” says Sklansky. “I thought they should be able to be effective, while honoring constitutional safeguards.”

So, after a brief stint as a union-side labor lawyer in Washington, D.C., Sklansky headed back to California—“I really missed the West Coast,” he says. And he wanted to figure out “from the inside” whether prosecutors could, in fact, succeed within constitutional boundaries.

At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Sklansky did just that. He specialized in large financial fraud cases, including prosecution of the infamous Charles Keating, a key figure in the 1980s savings and loan crisis. 

“It was a thrill and privilege to be in that office. The attorneys took their work but not themselves seriously. There was a real esprit de corps,” Sklansky says.

Nonetheless, after seven years, Sklansky was ready for a new challenge. His father was a professor, and academia now appealed to him too.

“I knew I would like teaching,” he says. “I just wasn’t sure about the scholarship.”

In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine how Sklansky could have had any doubts. A prolific scholar, Sklansky is “a national superstar,” according to Robert Weisberg, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law. In addition to authoring the highly acclaimed evidence casebook, Evidence: Cases, Commentary, and Problems, Sklansky has done innovative research and writing on a wealth of topics, including “the political science of policing, the regulation of jury deliberations, the application of the Fourth Amendment to new surveillance technologies, the relationship between criminal justice and immigration laws, and the state of our hearsay laws,” says Weisberg. 

Sklansky, a gifted teacher, has won campus-wide distinguished teaching awards at both UCLA and Berkeley. He turned down offers from Harvard and from Yale to come to Stanford.

I love teaching,” Sklansky says. “It brings me into contact with young people whose perspectives aren’t hardened yet; they approach things with fresh insights and energy.”

He also enjoys the classroom’s spontaneity: “Good teaching can’t be canned,” says Sklansky. “In any good class, something is happening that has never happened before.”

So why Stanford?

Sklansky lists a number of reasons for his move to SLS. He has long admired many of the faculty members and counts several as friends. And, as a visiting professor to Stanford Law in 2011, he was “impressed with the way SLS combines scholarly excellence with a commitment to the student experience and to attracting and supporting a diverse and astonishingly accomplished student body.” 

Additionally, Sklansky appreciates Stanford’s future-oriented perspective: “The law school and the university share the forward-looking feel of California. They’re not focused on the past.”

And neither, it seems, is Sklansky. Looking ahead, he plans to address how prosecutors can be best regulated. “I wasn’t sure I could be objective when I first started teaching, since I had been a prosecutor so recently,” he says. “But I think I have enough distance now.” 

He also looks forward to exploring the natural resources on this side of the bay. An avid hiker (and list keeper), Sklansky has climbed the highest peaks in half of California’s 58 counties. He says Stanford is a good base for getting started on the other half.