Keith Price wanted to be known as one thing: a great attorney.
He knew that after he graduated from law school at Baylor University and joined the St. Louis firm of Davis, Davis, Kasnetz & Greenberg. Still, even though he felt supported professionally, he was nervous about mentioning his personal life. He didn’t bring dates to firm functions, he kept quiet about vising certain bars and he scrubbed stories of vacations to remove any mention of the gay community.
As it turned out, his colleagues already had realized that he was gay — with no effect on their view of him.
“Their focus was on my skills, and their giving me the opportunity to advance those skills taught me how to help other diverse attorneys advance,” Price said.
Price, who specializes in business law, now is a shareholder at Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard in St. Louis, which merged with his previous firm in 1998. Shortly after the merger, the firm adopted a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation. It was around that time, 10 years into his career, that Price started to use his business-law skills to help nonprofits working with an organization that brought AIDS services to underserved populations.
“As I got further into my career and developed some good relationships and started to discover I had support for who I was, I started to think about people who weren’t getting support,” Price said.
Price, who grew up in a small town in southern Illinois, had known he was gay since high school. He understood that those who feel they must hide a part of themselves are less likely to perform well at school and work.
“It takes a lot of energy to keep a piece of you hidden all the time,” Price said. “That distracts you from being the best lawyer you can be . . . You’re spending so much energy on either not being who you are or being something that you’re not, and that’s just not productive.”
Price’s work to promote diversity expanded beyond an LGBTQ focus as he realized he wanted to make the legal field more welcoming for those who face marginalization in other ways. He has worked with prospective law students through Saint Louis University’s PLUS program, which supports undergraduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the legal field.
As chair of the diversity committee at Sandberg Phoenix, he has sought to make the firm more welcoming for staff and clients alike while emphasizing diversity on several levels. The firm recognizes national diversity and inclusion observances, sending out information and resources related to people of color, religious minorities, people with disabilities and others in firm communications.
The firm also brings in speakers to help inform staff how they can work more effectively with people from those groups. One recent speaker discussed her experiences with blindness and answered questions to increase awareness of issues that blind people face. Firm members have embraced the diversity initiatives, requesting more frequent events and seeking to plan events themselves.
“Sometimes all you read in the news is negative things about different groups, but when you put a human face on the group it’s a completely different response,” Price said. “We’ve opened up conversations and made people know that they can ask questions so they understand more. When people understand more, I think that leads to breakdown of discrimination.”