Lawley studied at the University of Birmingham and University of Pennsylvania, followed by five years at the Franklin Institute research laboratories. In 1966 he was appointed associate professor in the department of materials engineering at Drexel University and was introduced to powder metallurgy.

He has been editor of the International Journal of Powder Metallurgy since 1985 and has published more than 300 papers during his career. He received the MPIF Distinguished Service to Powder Metallurgy Award in 1991, was inducted as a member of the first class of APMI Fellows in 1998, and that same year was inducted into the National Academy of Engineers.

The award is named in honour of Kempton H Roll, founding executive director of MPIF, and was given during the Industry Recognition Luncheon at PowderMet.