Recently, a younger Lawyer who had taken on a Michigan Driver's License Restoration case called to ask me some questions about the process. As a full time Michigan Driver's License Restoration Lawyer, getting calls from all corners comes with the turf. This includes calls from Lawyers who have already accepted a case, and then need some guidance in trying to figure out what to do with it.
As I spoke with this inquiring Lawyer, I soon learned that not only hadn't she screened her Client about his (or her, I really can't remember) Sobriety, but was pretty much aware, or at least believed, that the Client was still drinking. That's when I had to be brutally honest. To me, that a person is really and truly Sober is a first and minimum requirement before I will accept their case. Yet once I do agree to accept a case, I Guarantee that I will win the person's License back the first time, or else continue to represent them before the Secretary of State (technically, the Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, or DAAD), without further Legal Fee, until they do regain their License. In large part, I can make this win Guarantee because I don't take cases where a person isn't genuinely Sober.
I told her as much.
There's no real news in all of this. What I found so interesting was how she responded to my suggestion that she not take a case for a person who is still drinking. She pointed out that she didn't have the potential Client base that I have, and that she wanted to learn this area of the Law, get some experience, and try and establish herself, at least to some extent, as able to "do" License Appeals. She couldn't charge nearly what I do and certainly could not offer any kind of win guarantee. She felt she had no choice but to accept a "lesser" case than I would ever consider.
I thought about what she had said. No doubt, back when I was cutting my teeth, I took some cases I would never touch now. I didn't know better. Much of the "expert knowledge" I sell now was acquired in the school of hard knocks years earlier. Hopefully, experience and practice refines our skills. I know it has for me.
Yet I got lucky in one very important way; I had a background in alcohol and substance abuse assessment, counseling, diagnosis and treatment. It was then, and continues now, to be a field of study in which I have a keen interest. My undergraduate college degree is in Psychology, and I had seriously considered continuing those studies and earning a PhD, but the call to be a Lawyer was stronger. Thus, even as a young Lawyer, I knew all about Sobriety, and the important role it plays in a Michigan Driver's License Appeal.
Accordingly, I have always been able to tell, in about 3 seconds, if a person has genuinely committed to Sobriety or not. After all the procedures, requirements, rules and technicalities governing a Michigan Driver's License Restoration Appeal are stripped away, the thing really at issue is whether or not the person is likely to remain Sober. And as anybody who is really Sober understands, you can't fake it, at least not to anyone who knows better.
The DAAD certainly knows better.
In fact, a person should think of the whole Michigan License Appeal process this way: The state needs to make sure anyone winning back their Driver's License is a safe bet to remain Sober forever. Rather than take the chance that even one person who might drink again slips through the cracks and gets a License, the state sets the bar rather high, figuring that it is far better for a few Sober people to have their Appeals Denied and come back next year. The theory behind this seems to make sense, at least at first glance, but in practice, it can be a catastrophic and demoralizing loss to someone who really is Sober, but had his or her License Appeal turned down for some technicality.
This means that Sobriety is a first and necessary requirement to win a License Restoration Appeal, but it's hardly enough. It's a starting point, but nothing more. It's kind of like wanting to go to college at Harvard; you'll need a high school diploma to be considered, but you'll need a lot more than just that.
Then, I realized something. Of all the Lawyers out there advertising that they "do" License Restorations, to whatever extent, I'm the only one who makes a big deal about the requirement that a person be Sober before I'll take their case. Then again, I'm the only one requiring Sobriety AND providing a win Guarantee.
I've seen other sites referencing that the DAAD requires a period of abstinence from alcohol as a prerequisite to filing a License Appeal, but no one goes into any detail about how such past abstinence needs to translate into proof of likely future abstinence. In one of my earlier blog articles, I pointed out that merely being abstinent is not enough; a person must be really and truly Sober, as well.
Even a quick glance around this site and my blog shows that I very prominently indicate that I am only interested in Representing people who have quit drinking and gotten Sober. I have not seen anything like that on any other site.
This is as much an ethical issue for me as anything else. I have my Guarantee, and the reason I can offer it is because I don't take cases that can't win. If I take a case, I plan on winning it the first time. Given my Guarantee, if I don't win the first time, my workload precisely doubles, and my income gets cut squarely in half. Thus, I'm every bit as anxious and motivated to get my Client back on the road as soon as possible as they are to get there. But I do not want to put anyone back on the road that hasn't honestly quit drinking. I am here to help Sober people put what is most often the last piece of the puzzle back in place.
I don't want to help anyone "skirt" the system. While I agree that some of the technical rules governing License Appeals are burdensome, and perhaps, at times, a bit too much, I wholeheartedly agree with the underlying goal of the License Restoration process. I only want to help those who have made the profound transformation from drinker to non-drinker reinstate their Driving privileges.
By screening out the "scammers" and those who are still drinking, I avoid getting mixed up with those people who the whole License Restoration Appeal process is designed to keep out, anyway. On top of that, my conscience is clear.
I've been Practicing Law for 22 years, and nothing surprises me anymore. Still, I do find it kind of strange that a person will call my Office, each of us being complete strangers to the other, and within a few minutes will tell me, as if we're both "in" on the secret, something to the effect that they know the DAAD won't give a License back unless you admit you're an alcoholic (wrong!) and that they've been to AA, and are willing to say whatever I need them to say, or that they should say, in order to win their case. Then, they'll tell me that, no matter what the state thinks or says, they are able to drink, or control their drinking, or have a glass of wine every now and then with dinner, or something similar.
Anyone who says or believes that is about a hundred million miles from being Sober, and is even further away from ever becoming one of my Clients.
This really comes back to the idea that you can't fake Sobriety, or at least not well enough to fool anyone who knows real Sobriety. There is a kind of gratitude and a kind of "aura" that just emanates from a genuinely Sober person that is keenly and obviously missing from someone who still drinks, or even thinks they can drink.
As I continued my conversation with the younger Lawyer, I also pointed out that every time I show up for a Hearing at the DAAD Office in Livonia, I come in with a Client who is Sober. Whatever else may or may not be in any particular case, my Client's Sobriety is always established. I told this Lawyer that the last thing you ever want to do is just show up with someone willing to pay your Fee for a chance at winning back their License, if they're lacking a true commitment to Sobriety. Even if the Client is rich, and couldn't care less about the money, there is a cost to the Lawyer's reputation for being perceived as someone who will bring in a Client that does not meet certain minimum threshold Sobriety requirements. I would never want any of the Hearing Officers before whom I appear to think I would ever take a case for someone who is not honestly alcohol-free. Anyone who is still drinking is a train wreck of a Client for a Michigan License Restoration case as well as the Lawyer who Represents them.
I don't have that problem. I may be missing out on a lot more cases that I could take, and the money that would come with them, but my integrity is not for sale, and my reputation, even in the very small world in which I operate, is important to me. And if it wasn't that way, there's a good chance anyone who has read this far wouldn't have done so otherwise.
I then concluded my discussion with the other Lawyer by reminding her of the old cliche that anything really worth doing, is worth doing right.