Campus News Georgia Impact

Providing free legal help to Athens entrepreneurs

UGA student client Helyne Soleyn talks with Andy Okala, founder and CEO of UZO student staffing business and a UGA alumnus, during an onboarding meeting in the UZO offices in Athens. Okala started the business when he was a student and he uses the legal services from the Business Law Clinic to grow his operation. (Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

The life of a budding entrepreneur can be thrilling and inspiring, but it can also be overwhelming. Finding reliable counsel—especially the free variety—is almost always welcome.

Just ask Andy Okala, winner of the 2017 UGA Idea Accelerator and the co-founder of the Athens-based startup UZO.

Uzo is an on-demand student staffing service. It connects students looking to earn cash in their free time with local employers looking to staff short- and long-term gigs. Okala came up with the idea as a UGA student looking to earn spending money with random jobs, like helping people move. He and his partners developed the idea and won the fall 2017 UGA Idea Accelerator competition.

Now, Okala has graduated from broke college student to cash-strapped entrepreneur.

“It’s definitely not easy, especially when it comes to having a steady income while building a business,” he said.

One area where Okala has found invaluable help is legal services. UZO is a repeat customer to UGA’s Business Law Clinic. Run out of the School of Law and staffed by law students,  who are supervised by licensed attorneys, the clinic gives free legal services to small local businesses and entrepreneurs. The clinic focuses on helping businesses make transactions.

“We keep business projects from becoming legal problems,” said clinic director Willow Tracy. That means helping business owners form entities like LLCs and corporations, draft and review contracts, write bylaws, and protect intellectual property.

Diverse clientele

The clinic serves all sorts of clients—from musicians and artists to food distributors, restaurants, and tech startups like Uzo.

Okala has come to the legal clinic to create adviser agreements, ask about equity compensation and explore funding models.

“We know legal services are expensive,” he said, “So, to have a service like this has been vital for the growth of my business.”

In addition to providing services to local businesses and entrepreneurs, the clinic offers an invaluable experiential learning opportunity to law students. Robert Daily was a student in the law clinic in the spring before he graduated.

For Daily, the clinic gave him a chance to meet face-to-face with clients, including Okala.

“All of the entrepreneurs that we met were driven by a sense of autonomy and a passion for what they do,” said Daily, who is now an incoming associate at Ivins, Phillips & Barker in Washington, D.C.

As Daily moves on to start his law career, Okala is still plugging away building UZO in Athens. The company is still relatively small, with about 60 students in the system to be hired by a handful of organizations—but Okala says there are signs of progress. And he hopes to keep it going.

“We have a long way to go,” he said. “We want to grow as fast as possible, and we want to reach every campus across the nation.”

When that dream becomes reality, Okala can hire his own team of lawyers. Until then, he’s grateful to Tracy and the UGA law students who have provided a critical service to his business.