Leigh majored in philosophy and law at the University of Sydney and was admitted to the NSW Supreme Court as a Legal Practitioner. For a time she worked as a legal advisor at the Australian Society of Authors where she shifted interest into writing. Her mentors have included authors Frank Moorhouse and, as part of the 2002–2003 edition of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Toni Morrison.
Leigh is the author of the novels The Hunter and Disquiet, which received critical acclaim. The Hunter was adapted into a 2011 feature film starring Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill and Frances O'Connor. Leigh also wrote and made her directorial debut with Sleeping Beauty, a 2011 film starring Emily Browning about a university student drawn into a mysterious world of desire. Her film was selected for the main competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
In 2009, Julia Leigh was awarded a PhD in English from the University of Adelaide . In 2016, she published an autobiographical work Avalanche about her own experiences with in-vitro fertilisation. In a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, Gretchen Shirm concluded that " at the heart of this book lies an overwhelming generosity , a willingness to impart personal experience for the insight it offers others". Julia Leigh was awarded the Peter Blazey Fellowship from the University of Melbourne in 2015 for development work on Avalanche 
Julia Leigh has spent extensive periods in Paris and New York (where she was Adjunct Associate Professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University).
- "Leigh, Julia". The Australian Literature Resource. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
- Bodey, Michael (18 June 2011). "Once upon a time". The Australian. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
- Hallett, Bryce (16 April 2011). "First-time director up for Cannes honour". The Age. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- Bodey, Michael (15 April 2011). "Director in fairytale debut as Sleeping Beauty selected for Cannes". The Australian. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
- Gretchen Shirm.Shining a Light on Dark Times.Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum. April 30-May 1, 2016 p30
- Sleeping Beauty.A Film by Julia Leigh.eOne Entertainment,Cannes 2011
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