Advocating for the Most Vulnerable in Austin

Andy Smetana, Mergers & Acquisitions counsel, spends most of his days working on business transactions, helping corporate and private equity clients raise money to expand their operations and investments. Several times a month, however, he looks after the interests of two very different clients. They are a young boy and girl — brother and sister — who have been placed in foster care.

“It’s a way to fulfill my desire to help others and for basic justice,” Smetana said.

Smetana, based in Austin, is a court-appointed special advocate volunteer with CASA of Travis County. Started by a Seattle judge in 1977, the CASA program partners with the court system nationwide. Advocates serve as the eyes and ears of judges, helping them make better judgments about the best interests of children who have been abused or neglected.

“It’s a way to fulfill my desire to help others and for basic justice.”

“We have regular interaction with the kids, seeing how they’re doing in foster care. We observe family visits — with mom, dad or siblings,” Smetana said.

He follows up with the parents to see how their participation in court-ordered services is going. For example, a mother with an abusive boyfriend may be required to take a course that trains her to better protect her children in situations that could cause harm. Or a CASA volunteer may help parents schedule drug treatment and testing and then monitor their progress.

“We engage with the children and observe the situation on the ground so we can offer the judge a more complete picture of how things are going.”

That effort culminates in testifying in court, sharing his recommendations related to the best interests of the children.

Smetana’s current CASA assignment is his second. He took up his first case, in which he advocated for the interests of three little boys, when he was looking for a way to help vulnerable children in foster care.

“I’m an adoptive parent myself, of a child from the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he says. “Growing up in a stable home environment in Montana, I never really had much interaction with the foster system or adoption in general. My wife and I had some challenges having kids of our own. We did have twin girls, but my wife had health complications shortly after they were born. When we wanted to keep growing our family, we decided to adopt so we could make a difference for a child living in an unthinkable situation.”

Smetana saw firsthand the shortcomings of the adoption process. Around the same time, close family friends adopted from foster care in Texas, and Smetana learned about the serious challenges facing children in the system.

It was a short path from these eye opening experiences to CASA for the corporate lawyer.

“My mom was a staff attorney at the Montana Supreme Court for over 30 years. She chose to pursue the law when I was three, and I saw her dedication and the sacrifices she made to go to law school when I was still a young child. She has always believed passionately in justice and that certainly influenced me.”

How does Smetana’s work with CASA influence his legal practice?

“I think it helps clients get to know me as a human better, understand that I do things outside of work, aimed at a bigger cause of trying to help children in need. It makes me more approachable and deepens the relationship. We are lucky to retain clients over the long term because of the truly excellent legal and business advice we give them. But it’s nice to show them your values, which are often shared.”