In the last installment (Part 4), we essentially concluded the paperwork part of a Michigan Driver's License Restoration Appeal or Clearance case, having gone from determining eligibility (Part 1), completing the Substance Abuse Evaluation (Part 2) and the Letters of Support (Part 3) to preparing and double-checking all the documentation, making sure that it adequately relates a person's Recovery Story, insuring it's complete and ready to file, and then filing it (Part 4). In this installment, we will look at the importance of preparing for the actual Hearing. I call this "prepping."
In the Part 4, I noted that it takes about 6 weeks after the paperwork is filed with the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), until notice of the Hearing date is received. Usually, the Hearing date is about 2 weeks from the time the notice is received. Over the course of the last 22-plus years, I have refined how I do things, and have found that the best time to do a "prep session" for a License Appeal Hearing is as close to the actual time of the Hearing as possible. Almost all of the time, this means the night before the Hearing, and by telephone.
I have pointed out in numerous other articles that I have all of my cases set for a live, in-person Hearing at the Livonia branch of the DAAD Hearing Office. I do this no matter where a person lives. To underscore how strongly I believe in a live, in-person Hearing, the reader should know that the Secretary of State has a large Branch Office about 4 minutes from my Office, where there is a video terminal at which I could have any or all of my Hearings scheduled. By comparison, the drive to Livonia is nearly an hour from my Office, yet I wouldn't ever consider doing a video Hearing, even if a Client offered to double my Fee for doing it. I don't think twice about driving for nearly an extra hour (two if you count the return trip); it's just what you do if you want to do this right.
By having all of my cases assigned for a Hearing in Livonia, I get to go in front of the same 5 Hearing Officers all the time. I know what they look for in a case. I know how each conducts a Hearing. What is so very important to one Hearing Officer, is, in some cases, beyond irrelevant to another. And amongst them, several will conduct a Hearing one way, and ask a certain set of questions if a person claims to still attend AA, whereas they will ask a different set of questions if a person is not actively involved in AA.
This is all very relevant to the "prep" that I do the night before the Hearing. Who will be Hearing your case is very important to how you prepare for it. This is part of the process that is left to blind luck for anyone going in without a Lawyer, or with a Lawyer who is not a Driver's License Restoration Attorney, or is anything less than a "regular" at the Hearing Office where the case is assigned.
As part of the "prep," I will always have a "homework" or review assignment for my Client the night before their Hearing. I will, of course, have once again gone over their file and its contents, and I am not only going to direct them to do the same, but will point out those facets of their case to which I want them to pay particular attention. Everyone should know their own story, but in a License Appeal case, there are certain aspects of a person's Recovery Story that are more important than others. Beyond the relative importance of one thing over another, it can sometimes be the way things are described in the documentation, or how those documents relate to each other (or not) that can become a key focal point in a License Appeal case, and therefore should be highlighted in the Appeal Hearing. This, of course, is my job. The Client can leave the heavy lifting to me; I will chart the course and direct things.
As I noted earlier, I prefer to do my "preps" the night before the Hearing. Normally, this means evening, as in after hours. I think of this prep session as so important that I prefer to do them at home, on my own time, when my Office is closed and there are no other distractions that can divert my attention from my Client and his or her case. When I prep a Client, I want my Client's undivided attention, and I make sure they get mine. As we talk about the upcoming Hearing, me, my Client and the Hearing Officer are, in my mind, the only 3 people in the world, or at least the only 3 that matter for the hour we spend preparing.
Preps usually take an hour. Specifically, most take about 65 minutes. Some can be done in 50 minutes, but I've never done a prep in less time than that. I find it ironic yet interesting that my preps usually last about twice as long as the Hearing itself. Yet preparation is and always has been the key to success in anything. A world record setting 100 yard dash takes less than 10 seconds to run, but it takes ENORMOUS amounts of preparation to achieve. In that sense, anyone can go in a bum rush though a License Appeal Hearing, but if you want to win it, you had better prepare for it.
I make sure my Clients know what questions I will be asking (and yes, I ask the very first questions of the Hearing - more on that in the next installment). I make sure they know what questions the Hearing Officer will be asking, and how to answer those questions, as well as how NOT to answer them. I explain how the Hearing will proceed, and what I will be doing at each point, particularly after I've asked my questions and then turn the floor over to the Hearing Officer so that he or she can ask their questions. It is important that the Client know what to expect. I cannot imagine a person feeling good or relaxed, or otherwise doing well at their Hearing if they feel like they're walking into the great unknown.
Often, when I am done with a prep, my Client will thank me, not so much for the prep itself (that's part of my job) but for helping them relax a bit about the next day. As I close the prep session, I remind my Client that although one can describe a License Appeal as being about a million little rules, I've already taken care of all that, and all the Client has to do is go in and tell the truth. By limiting the cases I take to people who have honestly quit drinking, I remind my Client that underlying everything else, we're going in to be honest. We have nothing to hide. Frequently, a person will tell me that they feel confident after we're done. A few days before this writing, a Client told me that he not only felt confident, but said that as long as the Hearing Officer did his job, he'd be able to tell that my Client was telling the truth. I thought that was not only a wonderful line, but an excellent way to look at things.
Of course, each case is unique. Accordingly, while preparation is critical in every case, each one requires preparation tailored specifically to it. A Client active in AA will be prepped differently than a Client who used to go to AA, but doesn't any longer; the prep for someone who has never been to AA, or who has only gone a few times will be different from either of the foregoing, as well.
In the end, when I hang up the phone with my Client, they will know what to expect, be prepared for it, and feel confident about it. That's what being prepped is all about. In truth, anything less is just plain unprepared.
In Part 6, we'll conclude our overview of the Michigan License Restoration (or Clearance) process by looking at the actual License Appeal Hearing, and see how everything comes together there.