Born at Patrick Courthouse (now Stuart), Virginia in 1858, Abram P. Staples received both liberal arts and law degrees from the University of Richmond by the age of twenty. His father, Samuel Granville Staples, was clerk of the circuit court of Patrick County and a signer of the Articles of Secession in 1861. His uncle, Waller F. Staples, sat on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals from 1870 to 1881 and one of his four sons, Abram P. Staples, sat on that same court from 1947 to 1951.
Staples practiced law in Chatham, Martinsville, and Roanoke, Virginia between the years 1879 and 1904. Staples was plagued by poor health all his life and decided that law practice was too strenuous a life for him.
He joined the law faculty of Washington and Lee in 1904. There he taught Contracts, Agency, Real Property, Negotiable Instruments, Insurance, Bankruptcy, Corporations, and Wills. He became a beloved teacher whose pleasant disposition earned him the nickname "Sunny Jim." The 1912 edition of the W&L annual Calyx was dedicated to Staples.
Staples became ill shortly after the start of the 1913 fall term. He died in a Roanoke hospital on September 30, 1913.