In part 1 of this article, we began our backwards look at the Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance process, starting from the moment you actually win your license to the point where I correct and edit the letters of support. As I noted, the letters of support and the substance abuse evaluation, which we’ll pick up with in this installment, need to be cross-checked with each other, and with all the other evidence in your case in order to make sure everything is cohesive and consistent.
The substance abuse evaluation is, without a doubt, the real foundation of a Michigan license appeal. There are loads of things that need to be managed in order to get this part right. To start, I can HONESTLY count on 1 hand the number of evaluations I have seen in my 25-plus years, done by evaluators other than the few I use, that are good enough to win a license reinstatement case. The overwhelming majority of evaluations I have seen that were done outside of my circle of evaluators are sure losers. This has nothing to do with how good a substance abuse counselor the person may be, but rather how much direct experience AND specific instruction he or she has had in completing this form so that it provides the hearing officer with the information he or she has been trained to consider. That kind of information is not obvious from just looking at the form, despite the fact that almost every substance abuse counselor would probably think so.
A good substance abuse evaluation, in terms of your license appeal, will have 2 defining characteristics: First, it will be clinically accurate and sound, and second, it will be favorable to your case. These 2 things are quite independent of each other, but both are needed if you are to have any chance to win your license back. An evaluation can be as clinically accurate and sound as can be, but may be unfavorable to you. By contrast, the state has seen countless favorable evaluations that were based on fiction, rather than fact. The idea that you can somehow “buy” a favorable evaluation is a misconception; the hearing officers can see right through that, and that’s one of the first things they look at. One of my favorite examples of this is when an evaluation gives a person an “excellent” prognosis. If someone has been sober for 24 years, has outlived his or her first AA sponsor, has 2 or 3 sponsees, is the longtime treasurer for his or her home group and runs its annual 4th step retreat, he or she probably has an “excellent” prognosis for continued abstinence from alcohol. When someone has 3 or 4 years, however, the state will be reticent to agree that his or her long-term prognosis is “excellent,” based upon the real life cases it sees, and will feel most comfortable with a prognosis of “good.” The irony here is that “good” is always good enough; “excellent” creates more trouble than it’s worth. This is a lesson that’s only learned through hard-won experience…
The majority of the time I spend at the first meeting I have with a new client is dedicated to preparing him or her to have the substance abuse evaluation completed. This meeting lasts about 3 hours (often a bit more). If there’s a theme here, it’s that preparation is key, and that doing a license appeal the right way takes a lot of time. And for all of that there has to be an underlying passion for this kind of work, and I certainly have it. Obviously, the client has a passionate desire to get back on the road, but I have a passion for winning, as well. As a driver’s license restoration lawyer, my success is based, first and foremost, on only undertaking representation for people who have honestly quit drinking. That means I deal exclusively with people who are on the upswing in life. There is no job in the legal profession that delivers clients like mine, because most people go to lawyers when things have gone wrong. Think about your drunk driving cases. By contrast, when a sober client is ready to get his or her license back, life for him or her is very different than it was at the time of that last DUI. For me, this means I have a client base of people “on a roll,” with things going right in life.
It is some of this “essence” that must be captured in the substance abuse evaluation. Sure, the evaluation is really a clinical analysis, but there is always something “special” about real sobriety. You can’t fake it, and it ‘s a lot more to it than just “not drinking” and support group clichés. You know it when you have it; if you’re reading this for someone you care about and they really “get it,” then you know, as well. It’s some of this magic dust we need to reach out and grab and sprinkle at various points in the case, the substance abuse evaluation being one of the most important. No matter how you cut it, a good evaluation requires a thoroughly prepared client, a good evaluator, and a foundation of genuine sobriety.
The first appointment in my office is preceded by your phone call. As much as I have written about lawyers and the driver’s license restoration and clearance process, I never try and talk anyone out of checking around when looking for a lawyer to hire. In fact, you’d be a fool to not do so. Part of that checking around, however, will mean that you may eventually have to pick up the phone and call some lawyer’s offices. If you haven’t been able to figure things out by what you’ve read, then you need to pay attention to who answers the phone and how he or she answers your questions and explains the license restoration process when you call. Here, I can slyly suggest you ask about what kind of guarantee you get for your money. If I take your license case, I guarantee you’ll win it back. I make my money wining cases the first time, not fulfilling guarantees. I also think it is critical that any lawyer you talk to asks about your sobriety right out of the gate. I do not negotiate on this point; I only take cases for people who have honestly quit drinking. If you haven’t then I’m not the lawyer for you, but if you really are sober, and some lawyer would take you case even if you weren’t then he or she isn’t the lawyer for you, either, if you get my point…
It is during this first phone call that a lot is learned on both sides of the conversation. Most people know that they are, or have been eligible to file a license appeal for a while. In those cases where a person is not sure, we’ll have them drop, fax or scan over a driving record so I can look it over and help figure that out. Beyond eligibility, some people need a little help understanding this whole sobriety thing. If there is anything I can say or do to help a person decide to put the plug in the jug and get sober, I’m glad to do it. Even though you need to be sober for me to take your case, you don’t need to be sober for me to take your call. I’m here to help.
The process with me usually begins when you stumble on this blog, or my website. The process of getting sober, of getting your life back, however, begins long before that. Nobody ever quit drinking because it was working so well, but most people don’t quit drinking soon enough, either. The road to sobriety is often long and difficult. The life changes involved are profound. Everyone who gets sober has a story to tell, and that recovery story will eventually become the central theme of your case. In this way, your first day sober is your first day and first step on the road to get your license back.
When you want to learn more, or are ready to get back on the road, call my office. We’re here to help you, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and can be reached at 596-465-1980.