Lawley was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. However, Lawley did not complete his graduation. Instead, he joined the 10th Hussars and became a soldier in the British army. He rose to become a Captain in 1882 and fought in the Mahdist War and saw action at Suakin (1884).
In 1892, he retired from the army and joined politics serving as the private secretary to the Duke of Westminster from 1892 to 1896 when he was appointed Acting-administrator of Matabeleland.