To file a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS), you need to submit certain evidence. In the last article in what I’m calling this “loose series” about license appeals, we looked at the substance use evaluation (SUE), and described it as essentially being the foundation of license restoration and clearance cases. In this piece, we’ll turn to the other major required evidentiary component required in every case, the letters of support. The SUE and the support letters are almost like bookends in this process, and are the 2 supporting pillars of your case. As I’ve pointed out in the previous installments, license appeals require proving 2 primary issues: first, that your alcohol problem is “under control,” meaning that you can fix a sobriety date, or a time frame that you’ve been sober, and second, that your alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” meaning that you can show you’re a safe bet to not drink again. I often speak of the the second issue as more important, not because it matters more, but rather because it’s somewhat harder to prove. It’s that fist issue that concerns us here – that you’ve stopped drinking, and it’s the letters of support that are the primary evidence submitted to prove it.
In the course of my practice, I review and edit well over 500 letters of support per year. I can honestly say that over 95% of them need help. To put this another way, of the 500-plus support letters I read annually, only about 25 (that’s about 2 each month) are good enough “as is.” As a result, I live in a world surrounded by red pens. I point this out because there is almost no way for anyone to get the letters “right” without the help of substantial editing. I provide my clients with a sample or template letter in the folder I give out at our first meeting, but I also explain that all the letters need to come back to me in rough draft form, and that the client should expect all of them returned with suggested edits, usually in red ink. Getting letters of support in good enough shape to be filed takes a lot of work, and most of it is on my part. That, of course, is part of what you’re paying for.
It’s much easier to discuss what the letters are not, and should not be, rather than how they should be written. Besides, it’s no secret that lots of other lawyers use my blog and resources to help with license restoration issues. I field plenty of calls from attorneys around the state who’ve gotten stuck on some point or other, and while I’m flattered, and glad to help, I’m not about to give away the proprietary formula I use in revising my client’s support letters anymore that Busch’s Baked Beans or KFC is about to give away their secret recipes, either. The one thing I can say is that if there is any universal constant to that underlying formula, it’s that the letters have to be genuine. Better letters are better in every sense, and not only stand as support for a person’s sobriety, but often enough either detail a person’s transition from drinker to non-drinker, or, as in the case of someone who didn’t know the person before he or she quit drinking, at least extoll the depth of the person’s commitment to remaining alcohol free. Good support letters are far more complex than what a college of mine calls “good guy letters.”