My first meeting with a new driver’s license restoration client lasts about 3-hours. I guarantee to win back the driver’s license for every client I take but doing that requires dedicated and intelligent effort. There are no shortcuts to doing things right, and when it comes to something as important as winning your driver’s license restoration case, careful preparation equals successful results. In this article, I want to go over a few of the reasons why it takes so much time to get a license appeal off to a proper start. One of the things we’ll be examining is the primary significance of your recovery story in a license restoration or clearance appeal. This, in turn, will make clear why a good part of time we spend together is used to sketch that out.
First, very few people really understand the driver’s license restoration process in detail. Sure, there is the substance abuse evaluation, the letters of support, and hearing itself, but that’s like saying if you have a ball, a bat and a glove, you’re ready to play baseball. Obviously, in order to play, you need to know the rules of the game, and in a license appeal, the controlling rule contains the negative instruction that “The hearing officer shall not order that a license be issued unless…” This essentially means that the Secretary of State, through its AHS (Administrative Hearing Section, formerly the DAAD, or Driver Assessment and Appeal Division) is looking for a reason to deny, rather than approve, a license appeal.
It doesn’t work this way because the Secretary of State is “mean,” or anything like that. Study after study has shown that only a very small percentage of people who develop a drinking problem get – and stay – sober. In fact, some reliable statistics show that over 90% of people with a drinking problem never get better. The Secretary of State has already concluded that anyone with multiple DUI’s has a drinking problem; this is why a person’s license is revoked in the first place. The license process puts no faith in a person’s promise that “it won’t happen again.” Instead, the governing rule requires proof, by what is defined as “clear and convincing evidence,” that your alcohol problem is both “under control,” and that it is “likely to remain under control.” “Under control” means that you’ve stopped drinking, and “likely to remain under control” means that you’re a safe bet to never drink again. This gets deep…
Think about it for a moment: You must prove, amongst other things, that you are likely, or as we’ve described it, a “safe bet,” to never drink again. Not a sip, not a drop, not again, and not ever. That’s a tall order, and it is designed to separate the truly sober from everyone else. The SOS knows that everybody needs a license, but only those few who can show that they are, and that they’re likely to remain truly sober, have any chance of winning. There’s a lot to cover before we wrap up, but at the end of the day, a person will have to show, as part of the proofs that his or her alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” that there is no role for alcohol anywhere in the world in which he or she lives. In other words, you must prove that you and alcohol exist in separate galaxies.
There are numerous examples and illustrations that I use to clarify this, and give it a proper context so that it makes sense. This eats up part of our 3 hours together. From there, we’ll begin preparing for the substance abuse evaluation. I go over the evaluation, quite literally, line-by-line. In fact, I’m so thorough that I will simultaneously fill out my own form I titled a “substance abuse evaluation checklist,” and that I send with my client to hand over to the evaluator. It is a back up to make sure the evaluation is done accurately and completely the first time, and the fact that I created it provides a glimpse into the level of detail I put into a case and helps explain how and why I can provide a first time win guarantee in every case I accept.
In terms of evidence, the letters of support are the primary submission regarding the first issue; that your alcohol problem is “under control.” That’s something that I help with rather extensively, so while we will go over how to draft the letters (I provide a template example in the client folder that I provide at this first appointment), I will do most of the heavy lifting in terms of editing and revising the letters. Since I do so much of this work myself, I’ll spend a relatively small part of our 3 hours on this aspect of the case.
The substance abuse evaluation can really be considered the foundation of the case, and it’s that line-by-line examination that will consume the bulk of our time. For all I could say about it, the bottom line is that a client will leave my office understanding exactly how the license appeal process works, the fundamental role of the substance abuse evaluation in that process, and will also know exactly what to expect from and how to present him or herself to the evaluator.
Can I get the first meeting done quicker? Sure, sometimes I have to fire up the jet engines and go through things faster, but a faster first meeting still covers the very same ground as a regular first meeting, but I just talk more rapidly; a lot more rapidly. I am fond of pointing out that there are no shortcuts when it comes to preparing a license restoration case, because there aren’t. Whatever I may do that’s redundant still works for me. I win virtually all of my cases the first time around because, most important of all, I start with a genuinely sober client, and I make sure we get every last detail right. I guarantee to win every case I accept, so cutting a little time here or there holds no interest or value to me. Instead, taking shortcuts only brings risk I am not willing to take. I am busy, so any time I could save would be great, but not at the expense of doing things properly, and I have the fine art of winning the first time down to a science. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
During those first 3 hours, I will learn my client’s recovery story. In many cases, especially for those people who don’t go to AA, the person may not have given much thought to his or her recovery as any kind of story. Think about your life. Have you ever thought of how your biography would be constructed? You can’t just write a linear account of everything that has happened to you or that you’ve done since birth. Instead, you’d have to pick those moments in your life that are illustrative and important, and sorting them out requires some effort and thought. That’s where I come in. I help with that. Even people in AA, who are used to talking about their recovery, are most familiar with doing it in the context of a meeting, where everyone at the table speaks for a few moments about whatever is relevant to the step at hand, and even then, the stories tend to adapt and morph as the “floor” moves from person to person. I have to “morph” your story into a winning driver’s license appeal, but as long as I have real sobriety to work with, it’s a relative simple, if not time-consuming task.
Within the context of a license appeal, there are really 2 critically important points every story must contain and explain. I have done this so many times that it is second nature for me to just pull this out of a client rather effortlessly, but for most people, this will be new ground. Truth be told, most people have never really thought about their journey from drinker to non-drinker as any kind of story. It just “is.” When you consider it for even a moment, though, and you think about your life in the months before you stopped drinking, the process you went through to remove alcohol from your life, and then compare how different your life is now to how it was when you were drinking, that’s a hell of a story.
Indeed, there’s a certain magic in that story, and we have to grab some. I’ll make sure we do, and we’ll sprinkle a little of that magic dust in with the other details of your case, and stir it all up in just the right way to win your license back. I am confident that I can do just that in any case where a person really has quit drinking for good, because I do it every day. All I need to start is a client who is honestly sober. And to be clear on this point, I am absolutely NOT interested in screwing around with anyone who still drinks any alcohol whatsoever, or who has been drinking in the recent past. Most of my clients have over 2 years’ sobriety, and many have 4, 5 or even more years. The more the better, but I generally will not begin a case for someone who doesn’t at least have 24 consecutive months of complete abstinence from alcohol and a commitment to never drink again.
Many people who try to do a license appeal without a lawyer wind up very frustrated when they lose because they know, in their heart of hearts, that they’ve really quit drinking. I have to help a client understand that having honestly “put the plug in the jug,” so to speak, is just a prerequisite to winning. Beyond that, you have to hit all the marks along the way. “Proving” a case means presenting proper legal proof. If you cannot define the legal standard of proof you have to submit, how can you expect to win your appeal? Going back to our baseball analogy from the start of this piece, how could you ever expect to play baseball if you didn’t even know that the team that scores the most runs wins the game?
Accordingly, I have to distill my client’s recovery story into the framework of a successful license appeal. This takes time, and no small amount of it. That’s why my first meeting with a new client lasts about 3 hours. Sure, it’s a sacrifice, but the end result is a new driver’s license in your wallet, guaranteed. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and winning back your driver’s license is no exception.