One of the most promising players to come through the Port Vale youth system in recent years, during the summer of 2009 he picked up interest from top-flight clubs. However, he was released by the club in the summer of 2010 after only featuring in a handful of games, and signed with AFC Telford United. He was loaned out to Altrincham in 2011, and signed permanently with the club in December that year, and helped the club to win promotion out of the Conference North via the play-offs in 2014. He signed with Hednesford Town in June 2017.
Born in Dundonald, County Down, Lawrie attended Middlewich High School in Middlewich, Cheshire, England. Lawrie worked his way through the Port Vale youth team and in July 2007 was offered his first professional contract. His first league goal came in the 89th minute against Chester City on 27 January 2009, the goal was so well taken that it earned him the club's goal of the season award. Following that game manager Dean Glover stated his belief that Lawrie had a bright future in football and two days later signed Lawrie up to a two-and-a-half-year deal. Lawrie repaid these kind words the next month in a BBC interview; accepting responsibility for Vale's low standing on behalf of the players, as opposed to bad-management on Glover's part. On 4 April he gained his second club goal in a 1–1 draw with Bury, again impressing with his performance.
The young striker's progress attracted attention from top flight clubs during the 2009–10 pre-season. The Daily Star reported that David Moyes was interested in bringing Lawrie in for a trial at Everton. Vale chairman Bill Bratt did in fact give permission for a trial, Lawrie spending the last week of July with the "Toffees", though manager Micky Adams denied it being a trial per se. Regardless of semantics, nothing came of the week at Goodison Park, Everton having apparently ended their interest in the young striker. Adams believed the experience benefited the player: "All these experiences can help James and benefit him in the long term." He was transfer listed in late September, along with the entire Port Vale squad, after manager Micky Adams saw his team slip to a third consecutive defeat.
Lawrie joined Kidderminster Harriers on a one-month loan in February 2010. The deal was made to get Lawrie games at the Conference level, as he was unable to break into the Vale first team all season. This deal was then extended until the conclusion of the 2009–10 season, and he finished the season with one goal in twelve appearances for the "Harriers". In April 2010 he learned that he would not be offered a new contract by manager Micky Adams.
In July 2010, Lawrie joined League One club Exeter City on a two-week trial. Lawrie was not offered a contract after an unsuccessful trial. He then joined Football League newboys Stevenage on trial, before trying his luck at Morecambe, again of League Two. He ended up signing a one-year deal with AFC Telford United of the Conference North. This was seen as quite a coup for the club.
He scored on his Telford debut, in a 5–0 thumping of Hyde United on 14 August. Despite this he was forced to wait on the substitute bench for a number of weeks before earning his first start for the club. He got his second goal in November, against Droylsden, before getting a brace against Hinckley United in January. He hoped this brace would prove enough to win him a first team place. However the next month he was sidelined with an ankle injury, and struggled to regain his place in the side upon his recovery. Telford managed to win promotion to the Conference National after a play-off final win over Guiseley – the "Stags" had finished the league campaign in second place.
On transfer deadline day, 31 August 2011, he joined Altrincham back in the Conference North on loan for a month. His loan was extended until 28 November and he scored four goals in eleven appearances, playing mostly as a winger. After his loan spell ended he was released by Telford and joined Altrincham on a permanent basis. The club missed out on the play-offs by 11 points in 2011–12. Altrincham reached the play-offs in 2012–13, but were beaten 4–2 by Brackley Town in the play-off semi-finals. The "Robins" again qualified for the play-offs in the 2013–14 campaign, and Lawrie scored the winning goal against Hednesford Town at Moss Lane at the semi-final stage. Lawrie then went on to score in the final as the club secured promotion with a 2–1 extra-time victory over Guiseley.
He scored eight goals in 46 appearances in the 2014–15 season, as Altrincham finished 17th in the Conference Premier. He scored five goals in 49 games in the 2015–16 campaign, as Altrincham were relegated in 22nd place. He scored eight goals in 45 games in the 2016–17 campaign, however the club continued to struggle and were relegated out of the National League North in last place after winning just four of their 42 league matches.
Lawrie joined Northern Premier League Premier Division club Hednesford Town in June 2017.
Lawrie earned four caps in the under-17 side, scoring against Iceland to earn a 2–2 draw after coming on as a substitute on 19 March 2007. In the under-19 side Lawrie scored three goals in his first six games. His first came against Belgium in a 5–4 victory Milk Cup on 30 July 2008, Lawrie scored the opener and was described as a "dominant figure". His second goal was against Iceland in a 2–0 win on 8 September. His third came against England in a 3–1 loss on 10 October. He won his first caps for the under-21 side on 19 August 2008, coming on as a substitute in a 1–0 friendly defeat to Poland. Later in the month he was also a substitute in a 4–1 loss to Ukraine and two months later he came on in a 3–1 win over Scotland. Lawrie was then called up to the Northern Ireland B team for a friendly with the Scotland B team on 6 May 2009. Upon announcing the teenagers call-up manager Nigel Worthington stated his belief that Lawrie would earn a full cap in the future. He came on as a 31st minute substitute.
Following his senior debut, he continued at youth level in the 2009 Milk Cup, Lawrie scored the under-19's last minute winner over Germany at the Riada Stadium, the game finishing 3–2. Two days later he scored the opener of a 3–0 win over Bulgaria. In the final, the Irish beat Denmark 2–0, Lawrie providing the cross for Josh Magennis to score the opener. Lawrie came away with the "The One" Player of the Tournament award. His fourth under-21 cap came on 12 August 2009, as he won a penalty in a 2–1 friendly defeat to Portugal. The next month he missed out on further call-ups to the under-21 squad, as he had an operation to remove his appendix. He returned to the squad following his recovery, scoring in a 2–1 defeat in Iceland in the 2011 under-21 Euro qualifier.
In May 2009 it was announced that Lawrie was to be called up to the full Northern Ireland squad for the first time in a friendly with Italy on 6 June 2009. He picked up his first senior cap in the game, coming on as a late substitute as the Italians came out 3–0 winners. His second cap came a year later in a friendly with Turkey.As of 1 May 2017.
As of match played 30 May 2010.
Northern Ireland under-19sMilk Cup: 2009
AFC Telford UnitedConference North play-offs: 2010–11
AltrinchamConference North play-offs: 2013–14
IndividualMilk Cup Player of the Tournament: 2009