The Chayefsky Laurel -- the guild's most prestigious TV award -- is given to writers "who have advanced the literature of television through the years, and who have made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer."
Kelley joins a list of previous recipients that includes Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, Rod Serling and last year's joint recipients, Glen & Les Charles. The list also includes Steven Bochco, who brought Kelley in as a writer-producer on the '80s legal drama "L.A. Law."
Kelley earned seven Emmy nominations for writing on "L.A. Law," winning one in 1990. He twice won producing Emmys for the show, when it was named outstanding drama series in 1989 and 1990.
Kelley, who was a practicing attorney in Boston before he broke into writing for film and TV, earned five more producing Emmys -- all for show set in the world of legal practice.
"Pickets Fences" was named outstanding drama in 1993 and 1994. "The Practice" won for outstanding drama series in 1998 and 1999. Kelley made Emmy history by winning the top prize for both drama and comedy series in the same year when "Ally McBeal" won for best comedy in 1999.
"David E. Kelley has changed what we see on television," said Victoria Riskin, President of the WGAw. "His writing is so unique and distinctive that it has redefined television drama"
Kelley is one of the most decorated writers in TV history.
"The Practice" and "Ally McBeal" have both won Peabody and Golden Globe Awards. Kelley won the Humanitas Prize in 1996 (with Nick Harding) for en episode of "Picket Fences." He won a second Humanitas Prize in 2002 (with Lukas Reiter) for an episode of "The Practice." Kelley is a member of the Humanitas Prize Television Board of Trustees.
He is also the creator-producer of "Boston Public" on Fox and the medical drama "Chicago Hope," which ran on CBS from 1994-2000.
Kelley was nominated for WGA five times for "L.A. Law" and once for "Ally McBeal." The guild honored him in 1996 with its Paul Selvin Award for a two-part episode of "Picket Fences."
He joined "L.A. Law" as a writer in 1986 and eventually became a supervising producer during the show's third season. He and Bochco co-created "Doogie Howser, M.D."
In 1998, the Producers Guild of America honored Kelley with is Norman Felton Award for Episodic Television for "The Practice." In 2001, the PGA presented Kelley with its David Susskind Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kelley is a member of the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame, and a winner of the Publicists Guild of America Television Showmanship Award.
The Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television is named for the Emmy- and Oscar-winning writer of "Marty," "Network" and "The Hospital." The WGA will present the award to Kelley on March 8 at the 55th Annual Writers Guild Awards, in ceremonies to be held simultaneously in Beverly Hills, Calif., and New York.