It takes a lot of time and effort to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal case. Even the most eligible, deserving and qualified candidate has to carefully navigate the legal terrain of what I call “a million little rules.” Anyone who is genuinely sober and previously tried a license appeal only to lose now understands that merely being alcohol-free is far from enough to win your license back. One of the reasons I guarantee that I’ll win any Michigan license appeal case I take is that I dedicate the necessary time to put together a winning case, and that starts right at the first meeting with a new client, before he or she has a substance abuse evaluation completed. This first meeting typically lasts about 3 and ½ hours. I’ve had clients who have lost a prior case tell me that whatever lawyer previously handled their case didn’t spend as much time on the whole thing as we did at the first meeting alone. As with anything, come from thorough preparation, and with something as important as a driver’s license appeal, there are no shortcuts to doing it right.
In some of my other driver’s license restoration articles, I have talked about a person’s journey from drinker to non-drinker as a “recovery story.” For many (but certainly not all) people, there is a kind of “light bulb moment” when they hit bottom and decide enough is enough. For others, the decision to stop drinking is the end result of a process that usually involves a lot of thought. In the clinical world, we call that “tipping the decisional balance,” meaning that the scales tip away from continuing to drink in favor of quitting. Whoever you are, and however your decision to stop came about, there is certainly a lot of background to it. This is the main plot of your recovery story, and I need to explore that with you in order to sort things into the proper context. As a driver’s license restoration lawyer, I cannot imagine getting anywhere near in-depth enough in an hour or an hour and a half to do that.
Almost all of my clients will fall into 1 of 2 groups: Those who are active in AA, and those who are not. As it turns out, most of my clients do NOT go to AA. For those who attend meetings, however, the whole concept of “telling your story” comes a little easier. Although most of my clients are not active in AA by the time they come to me, most of them do have at least some AA in their past. Some people, of course, have never gone to a meeting, so the whole “tell your story” concept is strange to them. That’s okay, because an important part of my job is to help go back and review things so that we can arrange the events that led from your drinking days to the decision to quit, and the positive changes that followed, into a kind of story; this is your “recovery story.” And while this is certainly important, there is a lot more to this than just drafting a narrative.
When I meet with a new client, one of the things we’ll do in that first, 3-hour meeting is go over the substance abuse evaluation form line-by-line. To be clear, my legal assistant will generally spend the first ½ hour with a client to gather general information, and then I come in and we’ll spend the next 3 hours going over the things I need to cover. If I had to define the real point of the time I spend with a new client, it’s to prepare him or her to have the evaluation completed. The way l do it stands in contrast to the way most other lawyers do it. I don’t merely give my client the names of a few evaluators and then tell them to go and have an evaluation completed; instead, I begin by explaining the role of the substance abuse evaluation in a license restoration case, how the DAAD (the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division) interprets it, and how we can make sure ours is rock solid. Doing this right requires nothing less than a line-by-line, point-by point explanation.
And that’s not all, either. Beyond thoroughly preparing my client to have his or her evaluation completed, I provide him or her with a color-coded copy of his or her driving record (I do the color-coding) to give the evaluator. In addition, I will complete another form of my own called a “substance abuse evaluation checklist” that the client will also give to the evaluator. This form is my own of line-by-line backup of the information needed for the evaluator to properly complete the evaluation. If this sounds like a lot, remember that it comes with a guaranteed win. As long as a person is genuinely sober, I will make sure they are able to slip a valid license back into their wallet.
All of my out-of-state clients, and even many of those who live here in Michigan will have previously scheduled an appointment to have the substance abuse evaluation done the same day they meet with me. The clinic that I most often use is located very close to my office. I have worked extensively with all of the evaluators in my circle, and each of them is a fully accredited working substance abuse counselor. When I say they are “good,” that is NOT code (as in nod-nod, wink-wink) for some insinuation that they will make a questionable, or even marginal case favorable. The DAAD picks up on that from a mile away. The professionals I use for my evaluations are top-notch clinicians of the highest integrity who would never do such a thing, and you can be sure the DAAD picks up on that, as well.
Part of what I want someone pursuing a license appeal to understand is that the substance abuse evaluation is the foundation of the case. If you don’t really understand what that means, then how can you run off and think about sitting down with a counselor to complete it? The flip side of that is that once you understand the foundational role of the substance abuse evaluation, then you have a real sense of what each section is asking for, and why and how your responses can make or break your appeal.
Truth be told, I am a very busy guy. I would not spend 3 hours doing something I could do in 2 hours, but I believe in doing things right, and I will never shortchange a client the amount of time I feel is necessary for him or her to leave my office fully prepared to have the evaluation completed. Sometimes, that means I’ll spend way more time than 3 hours at the first meeting. My win guarantee is really a warranty, and if I don’t set up a winning appeal the first time around, then I’m going to have to do warranty work thereafter. The bottom line is that while my guarantee is a safety net and removes the element of risk (meaning you don’t pay me and hope you win; you pay me once and you have the peace of mind that I will stick with it until you do win), nobody wants to have to come back a second time. You want to win your case and get back on the road as much as I don’t want to have to do it all over again next year. That level of service takes quality time. As I noted before, there are no shortcuts to doing it right.
The first meeting in a driver’s license restoration case is a big deal. So is winning your license back; in my world, they go hand in hand.