The week before this article was written was fairly typical for me as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer. I had 4 license appeal hearings, and that means that I had 4 “prep sessions” with each of my clients before his or her hearing date. That’s an important distinction; I do my client preps before the hearing date itself, and not merely before the hearing. As I sat in the lobby of the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) hearing office, I saw the unfortunate situation where a lawyer would arrive a bit early and then want to “go over a few things” with the client. To be perfectly blunt about it, that’s too little, too late. Way too little and waaaaaaay too late. Most of my preps are done the evening before the hearing, while some are done a day or 2 before that. To me, it’s not just a sin, but a huge and completely avoidable mistake that anyone would walk into the hearing office without having been thoroughly prepared for his or hearing well beforehand.
We all know the phrase “Preparation is key,” but in a license appeal, it’s more than that; it’s absolutely critical. An important component of proper preparation is making sure the client is ready to testify before the specific hearing officer to whom his or her case is assigned. In the Livonia office of the AHS, where I have all my cases heard (no matter where in the world my client may live), there are 5 hearing officers. Each hearing officer is a unique individual. Moreover, hearings done today are conducted very differently than they were even a little more than a year ago; three of the hearing officers in Livonia now expect the lawyer to do most of the questioning, but each will follow up with inquiries most relevant to his or her particular areas of concern. Thus, how I prepare each and every client begins with focusing sharply on who will be deciding his or her case.
Every single license appeal case, if it’s been properly put together, has a central story, or theme. Getting sober doesn’t just happen as the result of a snap decision, and it certainly doesn’t happen in the snap of one’s fingers. For most people, the DUI’s on their driving record are just the tip of the iceberg. No one quits drinking because it’s working so well. The conflict, both internal and external, that leads up to to the decision to get sober, as well as the experiences involved in getting and staying sober, make quite a story. It goes without saying, but I’m saying it here anyway, that you must be genuinely sober to win your license back. I won’t take a case for anyone who has not honestly quit drinking. A person’s experiences on the road to recovery need to be captured in the evidence that’s put together and filed with the state, and then ultimately reviewed as the “theme” of the upcoming hearing. This is NOT the kind of thing that can be done in a waiting room a few minutes before a hearing is about to start. So what is involved in the “right” kind of preparation for a hearing?
First, as we have at least implicitly discussed, the entire case itself must have been put together using your recovery story as the central theme. This is nothing that needs to be done consciously at the time, but is rather a natural product of simply “doing” a case the right way; the lawyer must begin by asking the right questions. In my office, the first meeting with a new client takes about 3 hours. The facts underlying virtually every license restoration case are the same: Multiple DUI’s leading to a revocation of the driver’s license, and now the person is eligible and wants it back. It’s all the other details that matter. They matter so much, in fact, that because of the way I do things, I guarantee to win every license appeal case I take.
Fast forward to the final product, meaning the license appeal I’ll file on your behalf. Before anything gets forwarded to the state, we’ll have checked it, double-checked it, and then checked it again. When I file any case, you can be sure that it’s a winner on paper. Now, the hearing stands as the last hurdle to jump before you can slip a valid license back into your wallet. With all this talk of how important the preparation is, you’d think the hearing is some kind of “all or nothing” moment, but, in fact, it’s not.
Instead, the hearing should be seen as an opportunity to go in and confirm to the hearing officer that the information provided in your various evidentiary documents is accurate. If the case has been handled correctly, all you really need to do is show up and demonstrate that you are, in fact, the person depicted in your substance abuse evaluation and that you are the person described in your various letters of support. This does put the bulk of the responsibility for a successful appeal on the lawyer, but that’s what you pay for in the first place, right?
In my practice, a client is told that I will always call him or her the evening before the hearing. I generally like to do my “preps” after hours, when I have no chance of being interrupted for anything. Once in a while, I may try to call a person during the day before his or her hearing, and if I get lucky and find the person available, we’ll do our prep. If not, meaning if I don’t get in touch with the person, or, if I do, but find that he or she is otherwise occupied, then I’ll call back later, always with the understanding that our arrangement is to speak on, and no later than, the evening before his or her hearing. To date, I have never once failed to do a prep session prior to a license reinstatement hearing.
One of the things I always instruct my clients to do, as what I call a “homework assignment” after our “prep” session (and this can certainly be done beforehand) is to review the substance abuse evaluation and all the letters of support so that the “theme” of our case becomes clear in his or her mind. It can be a strange experience to read about oneself in the third person. We go through most of life narrating our own story, and to see it told by someone else, much less by several other people, can be a bit off-putting. Even so, this is the story the hearing officer will be reading before he or she ever meets you, so it’s simply insane to NOT know how you’ve been presented to him or her through your evidence.
My prep, first and foremost revolves around the hearing officer we’ll be seeing, and directly incorporates my client’s recovery story (I will have the file memorized by the time we speak) and how the hearing officer is likely to evaluate it. I will go over the questions I’ll be asking, as well as the questions that will be asked by the hearing officer. These “prep” sessions take anywhere from about a ½ hour to an hour, and by the time we hang up the phone, my client will know exactly what to expect the next day. The value of my “prep session” really shows as we meet in the waiting room; I’ll usually kick back with my client and talk about the weather, or something light, while we shake our heads at the folks trying, at the 11th hour, to prepare for a hearing that is only minutes away.
Success ultimately does lie in the preparation, and that is why I can guarantee it for my clients. For everything I could say, the bottom line is that I put my money where my mouth is. If you hire me, you’ll only pay me once and you will get your license back. I make my money winning these cases the first time, not by having to come back again and do warranty work. For your part, all you have to do is be honestly sober, and I’ll get you back on the road. If you haven’t yet gotten to the point of living an alcohol-free life, give me a call anyway, and maybe I can help you with the decision to finally put booze in the past and thereby put a driver’s license in your future.
My office is here to help. No matter where in the world you may live, or where you are (or are not) on the road to recovery, you owe it to yourself to call me. We’re here Monday through Friday, from 8:30 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening, and we can be reached at 586-465-1980.