It’s been a while since I’ve written about my pre-hearing “prep-session” that I have before every driver’s license restoration or clearance hearing I handle. I do these preps with all of my clients, and feel that it is not only key to my success, but also helps alleviate much of my client’s pre-hearing stress. It’s normal, as the hearing date approaches, for a person to be apprehensive and nervous, so I want to help my client gain a sense of calm, and confidence. When I’m done, beyond merely having made my client ready for the hearing, I will have also demystified the whole hearing process for him or her so that they understand there’s no real reason to be fearful. It is important that when my client walks into the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) hearing room, he or she knows exactly what to expect. Equally important is that my client has the security of knowing he or she doesn’t have to remember any sketchy details of some kind of BS story, because we’re going in to tell the truth.
As much as preparing for the hearing is really about the client, and for all it involves, the process begins with me reviewing his or her file. I chose those last few words carefully, because although it would almost sound the same had I written “…reviewing the file,” I never lose sight of the fact, and I have to make sure the hearing officer also never fails to understand, that the decision he or she will be making is about a person, and not just a “file.” It can be easy, in larger, institutional settings, to think of a person as being synonymous with his or her case, or file. Dan the Driver may have license appeal case number 123456, but what’s inside that file is all about a 3-dimensional person (Dan), and equate to a lot more than just a 2-dimensional stack of papers. When I open a client’s file for prep review, I read every last thing in it, and take the time to memorize it. As someone’s lawyer, I not only need to have instant recall of every bit of evidence in the case, but also how that 2-dimensional evidence fits into the context of my client’s 3-dimensional life. Before I pick up the phone to call my client, I will not only have memorized his or her case, but also how it reflects his or her individual and personal recovery story.
This matters beyond just sounding like some kind of good “We care about you!” sales pitch. Thorough hearing prep requires a hell of a lot more than just some generic “heads up” about the kinds of questions that will be asked. All of my hearings are held in the Livonia Hearings and Appeals Office, where 5 hearing officers preside. Each one has his or her own particular concerns about sobriety and the license appeal process. A key focus of my preparation will not only focus on the particular hearing officer, but the concerns and questions he or she will have about each specific case. This means that if Sober Sandy’s evidence shows she attended AA while on probation, but no longer goes, the questions she will be asked by one hearing officer about why she no longer attends will be different than the questions put to her by a different hearing officer under those same facts. And if this isn’t enough, those questions will be different if Sandy has never attended AA, and different still if she claims to currently go to meetings. The point is that each case is one big set of fluid variables, and the hearing officer is another set of mixed variables, and preparing of a hearing requires me to know all of them first, and then connect those that are going to be relevant. Anything less is, well, unprepared.