I handle a lot of appeals to clear a Michigan “hold” on a person’s driving record so that he or she can get (or renew) a license in another state. In fact, somewhere around 1/3 of my license appeal clients come from out of state. In the course of my practice, I get tons of emails from people who need to obtain clearance of a Michigan hold on their driving record. Understandably, many of them inquire about using my services in a limited way to “help” out with an appeal, because they’re trying to avoid coming back here. In this article, I want to explain why I won’t do that for any amount of money, and why coming back is the key to winning your clearance the first time around.
The Michigan Secretary of State allows a person who now lives out of state to file what is called an “administrative review,” which is actually an appeal-by-mail, in order to try to obtain a clearance. Every year, 3 out of 4 of these appeals are denied. No one really knows how many times those who do eventually win have tried in the past, but the bottom line is if you’re looking to try this route, it’s a clear signal that you don’t fully understand the process. That’s not an insult, because here, in Michigan, very few lawyers understand the license appeal process, either. In fact, the reason I won’t touch administrative review cases, despite the financial incentive to do so (less work for the same money), is precisely because I DO fully understand the process, and see how an appeal by mail is entirely inferior to a conventional license appeal, which also includes a hearing, something that is conspicuously absent from the decidedly lazy and second-rate, shortcut method.
There’s a reason I guarantee to win every regular, in-person license case I take, and that’s because I not only start with a genuinely sober client (or I won’t start at all), but also because I control every aspect of the process. To be clear, the only difference between an administrative review and a regular clearance appeal is that the administrative review is decided on the documents alone (without a hearing), whereas the regular appeal is decided after a hearing. It’s not that the hearing itself is such a big deal to me, but rather that when my clients come back, I begin to make sure I exercise proper quality control because they’ll first see me for 3 hours at our initial meeting, get prepared for and then go to have their substance use evaluation completed by MY evaluator, whose office is just a few blocks away. After that, I personally handle every step we take. My clients will send me draft copies of their letters of support for review and correction before they are ever notarized. Ultimately, I double and triple-check the entire package of evidence, including the substance use evaluation and all the letters, before it’s submitted. Finally, I prepare each and every client for the hearing so that when we go in for it, all they have to do is tell the truth.
When someone looking for a clearance files an administrative review from another state, it invariably means that they haven’t seen my evaluator. Even here, in Michigan, I’ve only found a small handful of professionals that I’d use. Any out-of-state counselor simply cannot know the nuances of what the Michigan Secretary of State wants in an evaluation. The problem here is that any evaluator looking at the state’s form will think, “I can do that.” The Secretary of State, however, through it’s Administrative Hearing Section’s hearing officers, has a certain way of interpreting the information presented on this form, and that, in turn, requires that the evaluator knows the ins and outs of all this. As I noted, in over 27 years of practice, I have only encountered a handful of evaluators that do, and I rely primarily upon one whose office is just a few blocks from mine and with whom I have worked EXTENSIVELY over the years. In that same time period, I have read evaluations done by hundreds of other counselors, and none of them make the cut.
This is important, because this isn’t about my personal opinion of an evaluator. Almost without exception, when I read one of those “other” evaluations, it’s because the person hiring me has previously tried a license appeal before, either of the “do-it-yourself” variety, or with some other lawyer, and lost. Part of my job is to review all the paperwork from that losing case in order to fix those mistakes in the new one I’ve been hired to win. Most of the time, the substance use evaluation plays at least some role in the denial, and often enough, it is (or was) the main culprit behind it. I’m trying to be diplomatic here, but the bottom line is that if you have an evaluation for a Michigan license appeal completed in some other state, you are really taking a shot in the dark. It literally takes YEARS of experience to become proficient at doing them “right.” This is why, even when someone from out of state makes a generous offer for me to “just look things over,” on their paperwork, and to do so without my guarantee, I won’t touch it. It takes more work than I can describe to try and get some out of state counselor to do an evaluation the way it needs to be done, and certainly more than I have time for, at any price.
When I meet with a client, another part of my job is to explain how the letters of support should be written, and by whom. Of course, I expect to review them all in draft form and make corrections (literally, 99% of all letters need to be edited), but at least my clients undertake the process knowing the real, evidentiary purpose of the letters and why they need to be done a certain way. People who don’t have this explained to them almost always offer up a pile of what a colleague of mine calls “good guy letters,” meaning letters that talk about how good the person is, why he or she needs a license, and/or how tough it’s been for them without one. None of those things matter at all in a license appeal. A person could submit 1000 letters like that, and it wouldn’t help their case one single bit. Those kinds of letters don’t need to be edited, they need to be trashed.
Underlying everything I do is the key notion that there is a story behind every person’s recovery. No one quit drinking because it was working out so well. Most of my clients do NOT go to AA, so they’re not accustomed to talking about their decision to get sober and how their life has changed since then as any kind of “story.” Not even all the AA people are used to this, either, but the point I’m driving at is that your transformation from drinker to non-drinker is a story – it’s your story – and we need to flesh it out. I’m not just “good” at this; it’s what I do best. I help a person look back over their drinking, the events that led them to finally make the decision to quit, and how their lives have changed since then and put it together in a kind of linear, story-like way that wins license appeals.
Undertaking this before a person has his or her evaluation is important. The evaluation form itself is mostly a listing of facts. Facts are important, but they are like the bones, or the “frame” of your story. This is what I meant when I said we’ll “flesh it out.” This also goes to why I would NEVER just submit paperwork and let my case be decided upon it. Whoever reads that paperwork gets no idea, as in ZERO, of the real human story behind it. When a grown man tears up as he talks about his drinking, or his recovery, there is a “feel” in the room that magnifies the genuineness of his story. You don’t get that by reading an evaluation form. In fact, I believe so strongly in live hearings that I refuse to do them by video, even though there is a video terminal location less than 5 minutes from my office, while the office of hearings and appeals where my cases are heard, in Livonia, is over 45 minutes away. I don’t shortcuts; I do things the right way.
That’s why I provide a guarantee in every case I take.
As with just about every subject I take up, there is a lot more to this than what I can cover in a single article or webpage. You’ll find plenty, though, in the more than 400 informational driver’s license restoration articles I have written and posted on this blog. The important point I wanted to make in this piece was that to do this right – to win a clearance of the Michigan hold on your driving record – you should $hitcan any idea of taking a shortcut by doing an administrative appeal, and instead resign yourself to coming back here twice (the first time to see me and have your evaluation completed, and then, months later, for your actual hearing) to do this the right way.
If you’ve honestly quit drinking and I am your lawyer, I guarantee to win your case. As you consider your options, do your homework, read around, and then start asking questions. When you’re ready, contact me. All of my consultations are done over the phone, right when you call. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.