In the Michigan driver’s license restoration section of my website, and within the more than 200 driver’s license restoration articles on my blog, I analyze and examine virtually every facet of what it takes for a person to win a license appeal case in front of the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). One subject that could use a little more explanation, however, is what it takes to be a successful license restoration lawyer. With extraordinarily few exceptions, I win every case I take the first time around, and I back that up with a guarantee. There’s more to this, however, than just being a sharp lawyer. I want to explain things from my side of the desk, and explain how I am different from any other attorney out there who merely “does” license appeals.
First and foremost, I define myself as a genuine Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer. I don’t just “do” license appeals; I concentrate most of my law practice in them. It doesn’t take long to figure out that I am rather passionate about this field. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but there is just no way that some lawyer doing divorces can have a similar enthusiasm for the work he or she does in that field for the work that I do in mine. Central to my approach and practice is a specialized understanding of the onset, development of and recovery from an alcohol and/or substance abuse problem. Beyond claiming to be some kind of self-made “student” of this subject, I am formally involved in the study of addiction issues at the University, post-graduate level. This is critical, because in the real world, the entire crux of a license appeal is your recovery from a drinking problem.
Therefore, just being a lawyer isn’t really good enough, at least not in my book. And in my book, if I take your case, I guarantee I’ll win it. To be clear about it, though, I will not take a case where a person is still drinking, or even thinks he or she can still drink. This costs me a lot of potential money, because there is no shortage of people who read some (and clearly not enough) of what I’ve written, see that I have a guarantee, and call my office ready to pay anything to get their license back. The first question my staff or I will have isn’t about your ability to pay, but about your sobriety. If you’re not sober, I can’t help you win your license back, at least not yet. Perhaps, however, I can help you find some direction about getting sober.
This makes me unique amongst lawyers. It seems logical to me that if the development and/or diagnosis and/or recovery from an alcohol problem is the key issue in a license appeal, then as a license appeal lawyer, I should to have special education and training in those areas. Merely having handled a lot of DUI and license appeal cases doesn’t make a lawyer anything more than familiar with them. Think of it this way: I am familiar with a television because I have watched a lot of TV. I know my way around a remote pretty well, but that doesn’t make me an electrical engineer. Just because I watch a television doesn’t mean I can open one up and fix it.
In the world of license restorations, your lawyer certainly needs to know everything about the law and how it’s applied, but that’s only the half of things. In a license appeal case, the law is applied to the story of your recovery from an alcohol problem. The state, meaning the DAAD, is going to scrutinize every shred of evidence you submit. The law essentially requires the DAAD hearing officer to look for a reason to deny your appeal, and that begins with the substance abuse evaluation that forms the basis of your appeal. Here’s a newsflash: Many, if not most of the evaluations I see (this does not apply to the clinicians to whom I refer my clients) are not properly completed to the satisfaction of the state. That’s not a negative reflection on any particular evaluator, because the evaluation form seems to ask for one thing, while the hearing officers seem, at least to anyone not really familiar with the process, to be looking for something different. It just means that an evaluator really needs to receive direct feedback on the specific information the DAAD really wants and what it considers important. I do this with the evaluators with whom I regularly work. What the DAAD “wants” is not obvious no matter how much you look at the form.
About half the new cases that come into my office are for people who have tried a previous license appeal and lost. Some of these are “do-it-yourself” jobs, and some involved a lawyer. Either way, in almost every such case, the person supposedly in control of the evidence didn’t fully grasp the full scope of a license restoration appeal. This is where my kind of dual-purpose, specialized training is not only an asset, but becomes imperative, at least if you want to count on winning. As a lawyer, I have to make sure that the evidence is legally sufficient.
The hearing officers must, by law, be licensed attorneys. Their technical designation is “administrative law examiner,” which means that they are essentially administrative law Judges, with all the same qualifications and responsibilities, yet not the title or pay grade. Even if you sometimes get mad at their decisions, these hearing officers perform every bit the same function as any administrative law judge, and have an expertise in alcohol and drug issues unrivaled in the judicial sphere.
All of that means that, as a license restoration lawyer, I not only have to speak the language of lawyers, but the language of substance abuse counselors, as well. This involves a lot more than just being able to read a substance abuse evaluation, or understand the clinical terms used in one. It means being able to understand how a particular diagnosis (meaning alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence, in either partial or full sustained remission) has been reached, and even being able to disagree with it because I have a fundamental and working knowledge of the diagnostic criteria used to reach it. Without my kind of specific education and training, I couldn’t call up a substance abuse counselor and do anything more than any other lawyer and just ask him or her questions. And if that’s all your lawyer can do, then he or she is just along for the ride with you, and you’re paying for it (perhaps in more ways than just money). To put it another way, your lawyer needs to be the captain of this ship, and needs to be in control. But a lawyer without formal addictions training is only about half qualified to do that. A lawyer without formal addiction counseling training must necessarily surrender control to the evaluator once the evaluator begins the evaluation process. Such a lawyer can only stand back and wait for the evaluator’s report, and hope for the best.
That doesn’t happen with me.
Yet this is about a lot more than merely being “bi-lingual” and merely understanding clinical and legal terminology. This is about knowing who’s really sober and who’s not. Anyone can call my office and say he or she has quit drinking, but “walking the walk” has always been about proving what you say when you “talk the talk.” I make sure that the evidence of your recovery is clinically and legally solid. If you’ve really quit drinking and I take your case, I’ll confirm, both clinically and legally, that we have the evidence to prove it. If anything comes up short in that regard, then I’ll make sure we either fix it, or ditch it. I will never make the mistake of plowing ahead with evidence that’s not helpful. This is about the most common mistake I encounter when I meet with someone who’s lost before, whether it was because they tried to play lawyer, or actually hired an attorney who tried his or her luck at a license appeal.
While being sober is a perquisite to winning a license appeal, being able to convince the state that you have the commitment and tools to remain sober really cuts to the heart of the matter. Understanding a substance abuse counselor’s diagnosis is important, but that won’t win a license appeal. Being sober is a start, but the real focus of a license appeal is the answer to this question: Have you proven, by clear and convincing evidence, that you’re likely to remain sober? And by remaining sober, we mean forever, not just the next year or two.
This makes understanding both the generalities and the specifics of recovery imperative. Years ago, the whole world thought “recovery” from a drinking problem could only mean “AA.” This included the DAAD. There was a time where winning a license appeal meant proving you went to AA. Fortunately, those days are over. We now know that people get sober in countless different ways, and that AA is just one of them.
To be sure, AA is the granddaddy of all recovery. In the real world, meaning the world in which I work, and the world in which your license appeal will be decided, about 1 out of 3 people in recovery from a drinking problem are actively involved in AA. This means that the other 2 out of 3 people are maintaining their sobriety without going to AA. Yet even of those 2 out of 3 not currently active in AA, more than half of them had previously been involved with AA, at least to some extent. Most of the time, without even realizing it, these people leave AA having learned enough to establish and maintain their recovery. Sometimes, staying sober just becomes second nature to a person, and he or she will have simply crossed a line where they don’t have to try very hard anymore to do it.
The DAAD won’t just accept that explanation, however. A person is going to have to be able to explain, in detail, his or her epiphany moment, and how, with or without AA, he or she has internalized the essential concepts of sobriety. Good luck trying to do that to the satisfaction of the state, especially if you do it without thinking about it. This is where I come to the rescue. As part of my first 3-hour meeting with a new client, we’ll take a long stroll down the memory lane of your life. We’ll begin putting the words to your story from the time before you decided to quit drinking, to the moment the light bulb went on, to what you did thereafter, and how you implemented those changes that gave way to a sober lifestyle. We’ll be able to see how different your life is from before you quit drinking to now, as we look back.
In part 2 of this article, I’ll continue my analysis of what it takes to be a winning Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer. We’ll pick up right where we left off here, as we stood poised to go back in time, through your thoughts and experiences, and begin assembling the story of your recovery. In particular, we’ll look at recovery from an drinking problem from 2 predominant perspectives: AA-centered recovery, and recovery not based upon active AA involvement. We’ll see how it is important for a license restoration lawyer to understand this, as well as the larger recovery landscape.