The tough-tackling midfielder joined Hamilton Academical as a youth player in 2003. He made his debut in 2005 and quickly became a first team regular, helping the side to win promotion to the Scottish Premier League at the end of season 2007/08.
His performances attracted interest from a host of clubs and he signed for English Premier League side Wigan Athletic in July 2010. James helped Wigan defeat Manchester City 1-0 to lift the trophy in their first ever FA Cup Final appearance in 2013.
He then signed for English Premier League side Crystal Palace on deadline day of the summer 2014 transfer window.
James won his first Scotland cap as a substitute in a 3-0 friendly win over Faroe Islands in November 2010. He got his first start, and goal, in a 3-0 Carling Nations Cup win over Northern Ireland in February 2011.