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An early attempt to establish a law school failed, in part, because of the staying power of the traditional apprentice system, in which would-be lawyers trained in a law office and then sat for the bar. According to one commentator, law schools were perceived as "ivory towers, churning out theorists but unable to produce competent practitioners."

In 1886, the UB Council appointed a committee to revisit the idea of a law department. Such a department might be beneficial, but was not entirely necessary, the committee reported. A small but devoted panel of petitioners carried the issue to Niagara University, which was to serve briefly as home to the new Buffalo Law School.

Despite a lack of resources and personnel, Buffalo Law School began its first term in October, 1887. An audience of 15 new law students, some as young as 18, gathered to hear Charles Daniels, State Supreme Court Justice and law school dean, deliver his plainly but confidently titled inaugural, "How to Study Law."

This was to be a "how-to" curriculum, not just in studying law, but also in practicing it. Its object, said one early 20th- century writer, would not be "to graduate groups of black-letter antiquarians, or coteries of historians, but (rather) classes of lawyers." Buffalo Law School faculty would oppose the arid, theoretical slant of other law departments. They would also steer clear of the dated apprenticeship system.

Most law school faculty worked as volunteers, extracting a promise that they would be paid when the school could afford to do so. Not every judge could adjourn court to pursue unpaid teaching commitments, however, and the result was faculty absenteeism. Students complained.

There was parallel dissatisfaction with the Niagara University affiliation, partly for financial reasons. Buffalo Law School claimed it could raise funds more easily as an independent institution. Niagara did not resist a separation. According to some theorists, Adelbert Moot, later to be dean, secretly engineered the school's "independence," precisely to secure an alliance with the university. On May 20, 1891, the UB Council accepted the school as a new department.

When the first students received their law diplomas under university auspices, Vice Chancellor James Putnam defended UB's less-than-hasty movement toward expansion. The early flirtation with a law school was premature in his view. By 1891, the university felt it was time to expand "upon such a basis as the present needs of our city demand and its interest and honor require."