There’s a lot more to being a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer than just winning license appeals. As I thought about this, an acronym – GUT – came to mind, for the 3 words that best describe our practice: guarantee (my office guarantees to win every restoration case), understanding (we have profoundly deep interest in and understanding of real recovery and sobriety), and trust (our clients trust us to take care of them entirely, as people, including making sure they know all about the interlock device and helping with problems along the way).
Our guarantee to win every driver’s license restoration or clearance case is important and valuable, but it falls far short of telling the whole story about what kind of people we are. After all, my team and I could be real jerks but still guarantee our work. The idea for this article came about as we realized how much involvement we have with our clients after winning back their licenses. This often includes extra work to help a client avoid or head off an ignition interlock violation.
Interlock violations are very common. That’s why part of the ongoing service we provide to our clients is to help them at every step, including once they’re driving on a restricted license. Even though “heading off” a violation is something of a crapshoot, and the state’s decision to drop an issue is often arbitrary, we put our hearts and souls into always being there for our clients. Most of this follow-up work is done without charge, because we consider it to be part and parcel of what a client has paid for, and deserves.
“Deserves” is important. Because of the way we screen potential clients, we truly believe that those who make the cut because they are sober deserve the highest degree of care throughout the whole process. Anyone who has made the profound transformation from drinker to non-drinker has worked hard to do that. For most people, getting their license back from the Michigan Secretary of State is the last piece of the puzzle in putting their life back together after quitting drinking, and when someone has done that, they deserve a license.
Sobriety is a gift, but it’s one that’s hard-earned. Sober license appeal clients deserve to have lawyers they can trust to look out for them. This goes way beyond the fee we charge, because we only take cases for people who have honestly quit drinking. We won’t take a case, for any amount of money, unless a person is genuinely sober. This, in turn, brings us to the issue of understanding; my office really understands recovery and sobriety.
Beyond the fact that I have completed a formal, post-graduate program of addictions studies, I do not think you can find an office anywhere that comes close to ours in terms of really believing in and focusing on recovery. We could literally triple our business (at least in the short term) if we didn’t consider sobriety the first requirement for a license appeal.
This will make more sense if we explain the 2 primary legal issues in a driver’s license restoration or clearance case. Under the law, a person must prove, by what is defined as “clear and convincing evidence,” that the person’s alcohol and/or substance abuse problems, if any, are:
1. Under control, and
2. Likely to remain under control.
First, let’s be clear: anyone with 2 or more DUI’s an/or drugged driving convictions is legally presumed to have a substance abuse problem. I could go on all day to explain why, but the bottom line is that if you lost your license for 2 or more DUI’s, the Michigan Secretary of State has concluded you have a drinking problem, and you’re wasting your breath if you try and argue otherwise. This holds true even if you rarely drink; from the state’s point of view, then it’s all the riskier when you do indulge.
The upshot of all this is that issue # 1, that your problem is under control, requires that you show you have been alcohol and drug free for a “sufficient” period of time. In my practice, I won’t even consider a case where a person has less than 1 year of being clean and sober, and I generally won’t file an appeal until I’m sure that we won’t have a hearing until it’s been at least 18 months since a person last drank or used drugs.
Personally, I prefer that a person has at least 2 years of sobriety, and more than that is even better. I’m most comfortable starting with 3 or more years, but no matter what (and this is why our screening process is so important), we won’t just plow ahead and file a case unless I’m confident enough to guarantee a winning result. Thus, we may decide that it’s best to wait longer in any one case than another, as every situation is unique.
Issue # 2, that your problem is likely to remain under control, is the real meat and potatoes of a license appeal. This is where the rubber meets the road, and the line in the sand has been drawn. Anyone who has racked up multiple DUI’s is automatically believed to have an alcohol problem. However anyone interprets that, and no matter what you or I think about it, the state has determined that the only people who are going have their licenses restored are those who do not drink, and can show that they are likely to never drink again.
Think about it: people who don’t drink are exactly zero risk to drink and drive again. The state has NO INTEREST in listening to anyone prattle on about how they drink less now, or only have a glass of wine for a special occasion, but will never drink and drive again. If a person even says that they’d even consider having a drink at any point in the future, it’s game over for a license appeal.
Accordingly, sobriety is the core issue, legally speaking, of every license restoration or clearance appeal. As license restoration attorneys, our job is to win, and one of the ways our practice is unique is because we guarantee to do just that. This, in turn, makes sobriety critically important to us. It’s the basis of our screening and client selection process. People who have gotten sober deserve the rewards sobriety brings, and it’s wonderful to be able to help them get back on the road.
Not everyone who says they’re sober really is, however.
Part of truly “understanding” recovery and sobriety is also understanding addiction. Anyone in our field will soon learn that there is no shortage of people who will call the office and try and BS their way through the license appeal process and claim to have quit drinking, even though they haven’t. Given that one of the main duties of a hearing officer is to make sure these people don’t get re-licensed, it is imperative that we be able to confirm a person is really sober.
The main rule governing license appeals compels the hearing officer to NOT grant a license appeal until a person has proven his or her sobriety, as set out in the 2 issues above, by clear and convincing evidence. The significance of this really can’t be overstated. The main rule governing license appeals, Rule 13, begins like this:
The hearing officer shall not order that a license be issued to the petitioner unless the petitioner proves, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the following:
i. That the petitioner’s alcohol or substance abuse problems, if any, are under control and likely to remain under control.
There is no other law that begins with a negative mandate, much less a negative instruction that is so strong. The law could have just as easily been written like every other law, with language like “the hearing officer may, “ or “the hearing officer shall,” but instead, in this instance, it was decided that the rule would begin with as big a “no” as possible – the hearing officer shall not.
You can take this to mean that when a person files a license appeal, it’s not like he or she is putting his or her evidence on one side of an evenly balanced set of the scales of justice, where the goal is to tip them to one side or another. Instead, it’s like he or she is looking at a set of scales weighted all the way down one side, against him or her, and has to put on a certain amount of evidence just to get them to balance evenly, and then keep going from there, until they tip all the way to the other side. That’s what “clear and convincing” means.
In a very real sense, our guarantee is dependent upon much more than just our understanding of the law, but also our grasp of addiction and recovery, There is really a symbiotic relationship between these 2 things. Beyond understanding the clinical nuances of recovery and the legalities involved in winning a license appeal, we know how to sit across the table from someone who may not have thought of his or her transition from drinker to non-drinker as any kind of “recovery story,” and mold into one that fits into the template of a winning license appeal.
The notion of trust is multi-dimensional and runs through everything we do. As lawyers who guarantee to win every license restoration and clearance case we take, we need to trust our instincts. In a sense, those 3 terms – guarantee, understanding, and trust – turn into something of a “trust your gut” kind of thing.
The flip side to this is that, for the client, instead of having to rely on some lawyer saying “trust me,” having a guarantee that we’ll win your restoration or clearance appeal removes any risk about handing your money over to someone and just hoping things work out. When we take your case, they will.
It goes much deeper than that, however. In our various roles as lawyers and staff, the most important thing we do is to really care about our clients. This is about a lot more than just buying wining results.
As I said before, we could have our guarantee and still be a bunch of a$$holes, but we’re not. Wen a client hires us, we don’t just to show up and do the legal work. In a very real way, from the moment someone comes to our office, we take them by the hand and walk with them through the whole license restoration process. Part and parcel of our job is to think of things the client might not.
When a first-time license restoration client wins his or her license back, we’re there to help guide them through the process of getting the ignition interlock unit installed. We make recommendations about who to use, and then go over what you need to do while using the device to avoid being violated.
Of course, we make money handling violation cases, but I would NEVER want to handle a violation that could be avoided, especially if it’s on behalf of one of my clients. Funeral directors make money caring for the deceased, but that doesn’t mean they’re rooting for anyone to die. There’s plenty enough business already: we like to see our clients avoid interlock violations, in the same way a funeral director is no doubt glad to see everyone stay healthy.
My team and I are always there when a client has a question. If it’s 11 months after they’ve won their license and we can help somebody NOT get an ignition interlock violation, then we jump into action, and do so without additional cost.
If something does happen, and a client calls us about an interlock problem, if there is even a chance of “heading off” a violation from Lansing, we’ll do everything possible to make that happen.
Even if a client just wants someone to talk to, whether about his or her case, or a bad break-up, we’re there. Maybe we can be that listening board that helps someone avoid picking up a drink after something bad happens. Stuff happens all the time. Our clients should be able to trust that we’ll be there for them, and we are.
Unlike a punch in the gut, our GUT – guarantee, understanding, and trust – sets us apart from everyone else. Of course, this is easy to say (or, in my case, write about) but as the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding.” If you’re looking to hire a lawyer to get your license back, read around. See how other lawyers explain themselves.
Then, call around. All of my consultations are free, confidential and done right over the phone, whenever you give us a ring. I WANT you to comparison shop. It’s really best for us if you to talk to as many law firms as you can, and then speak with our office. We are really friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 586-465-1980.