Michigan Driver’s License Restoration – Doing it Yourself

In our capacity as Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers, we have a love-hate relationship with “do-it-yourself” driver’s license restoration and clearance appeals. On the one hand, we love them because half of more of the people who hire us do so after having tried and lost on their own. On the other hand, we hate them because there is often extra work we have to do to repair what caused the case to be denied in the first place. Of course, none of this “repair work” would have been necessary had the person hired us, but, as the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

DIY2-300x260That said, the reader may expect this article to try and dissuade him or her from trying a “do-it-yourself” license appeal, but it won’t. Although there are plenty of reasons why a person would be far better served by hiring our firm right out of the gate, the simple fact is that we’re always going to be here, and there really aren’t that many reasons why a person inclined to try handling his or her own case shouldn’t do just that. In other words, if you want to take a shot at doing your own license appeal, then, by all means, go for it!

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there is very much a self-serving interest in me saying “go for it,” because the vast majority of people who try on their own won’t succeed. Afterwards, many will call us, and we have learned through our decades of experience that these folks make great clients, because they don’t have to be “sold” on anything. Instead, having already been through the process, only to be denied, they’ll phone our office and the most important question they’ll have is how soon we can get started on their next appeal.

I could sit here all day and write about how it’s mostly a matter of luck if and when if any of “do-it-yourselfer” actually win, but so what? There’s nothing wrong with getting lucky!

The problem, though, is that some of those who don’t win may have dug themselves into a bit of a hole, and will have to have to wait at least another year (this is required by law) to file again.

No matter what, nobody loses because they got everything right. In that regard, here are 4 of the most common things that people get wrong:

1. Substance Use Evaluation (SUE). In order to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case, a person must submit a substance use evaluation that is both legal adequate and appropriately favorable. Even the slightest error or omission means an SUE is not completely accurate, and when that happens, there goes your case. This is why our firm only uses 2 evaluators (1 primary, and another on the other side of town) who have unsurpassed experience properly doing evaluations for license appeal hearings.

There is a lot that goes into a thorough evaluation, and I’d urge the reader to explore the linked articles to at least get a basic idea of what’s required. If a person filing an appeal doesn’t have a clear understanding how the history, diagnosis, and prognosis sections affect and interact with each other, and know which of the prognoses legally requires a denial, and which is better to have in light of a person’s substance use and recovery history, then he or she is essentially flying blind.

2. Letters of Support. There are very strict requirements for the letters of support. Insufficient letters are another major reason why people lose license appeal cases. The Michigan Secretary of State calls them “testimonial letters,” because they are required to be a lot more than just what a colleague of mine wisely calls “good guy letters.” The letters of support must be based upon personal knowledge and must attest to certain, specific things regarding a person’s substance use history and recovery.

A critical part of what my team and I do is carefully check over and edit every letter in every case we file to make sure each one provides the information the Secretary of State needs. In practice, we do substantial work on over 99% of the letters that we submit. For everything else I could say, here is a recent, real-life event that really illustrates my point:

A while ago, we handled a license appeal for someone I know well. Because I was called on to write a letter of support on this person’s behalf, I couldn’t be the lawyer, so one of the other attorneys in our firm handled the case.

Although I couldn’t possibly count the number of support letters I have read and edited in over 30 years, that number is surely in the multiple, if not tens of thousands. This time, though, I was the letter writer, not the editor. I put my heart into the job, thinking that, since I was the “expert” at getting support letters right, I’d make sure mine hit all the required marks and didn’t, as is often a problem, stray into unnecessary issues.

Despite my best efforts, though, my associate returned the letter all marked up, with a ton of proposed changes. The finished product was, of course, much better, but also noticeably shorter than my own first draft.

3. Testimony. The first thing that anyone should understand about testifying at a license appeal hearing is that, no matter what, you should tell the truth. This isn’t meant as some kind of required legal disclaimer, but rather as solid advice. If a hearing officer discovers that someone is trying to BS about something, or the person otherwise gets caught lying, it’s not only “game over” for that case, but the label of “liar” will forever be attached to him or her for any subsequent appeal he or she files.

There is a high cost to BS.

The hearing officers are veritable experts as sorting through BS, and they just assume, as a matter of course, that they’re going to get lied to every single day.

As far as testimony in the hearing goes, every hearing officer does it differently: some will ask most of the questions at a hearing, while others will expect the lawyer to present the case and ask the most of the questions, choosing, instead, to follow up with few specific questions of their own. Make no mistake, though, they will always have questions.

One of the more important things to do when testifying is stick with the theme of the case. Every person (at least everyone who is genuinely sober) has a “recovery story,” but because they’re nervous, they can lose the thread. Proper preparation for the hearing (we ALWAYS prep our clients beforehand) is critical to making sure someone understands that theme, and covers what’s important, without wandering astray. If there was ever a time to stick with just answering the question that’s asked and not volunteering more than that, this is it.

4. Preparing for the specific hearing officer that will decide your case. This is critically important, and, no matter what, it simply cannot be done by anyone trying their own license appeal. It is another deep subject, but the short version is that all the hearing officers are going to ask a lot of the same questions, but each will have their own, as well. Every hearing officer has particular areas of concern, and his or her individual questions will reflect that.

Of course, when we’re asking the questions, we try to focus on those areas as well.

The proper way to prepare for a specific hearing officer actually begins at the outset of a case. Precisely because it’s impossible to know who will be assigned, it’s important to take into account the particularities of each and every one of the hearing officers so that no matter who gets the case, the evidence will be good enough.

For example, there is one hearing officer, in particular, who has very stringent requirements for the letters of support, and letters that would be good enough for all the other hearing officers won’t fly if the case is assigned to him.

Yet for all of that, what matters is knowing what kinds of questions to expect, and not wasting time getting ready to explain something that your hearing officer doesn’t care about, or overlooking something that he or she finds important.

Although none of the hearing officers are what one could call “tricky,” it is their job to be skeptical, and that often results in any number of “curveball” questions, just to make sure the person testifying isn’t trying to pass off a bunch of BS. This is why it’s important to tell the truth, and why, in turn, our firm will only take a case for someone who has honestly quit drinking.

Because someone going in on their own won’t know these things, they can sometimes do more than just lose; they cause damage that needs to be undone and then repaired as part of any subsequent appeal.

Thus, and as noted above, there is often extra work that we need to put into the appeal following an unsuccessful “do-it-yourself” case. Sometimes, that can be a lot, and/or it can require a person to wait even longer than 1 year to file again.

Now, get this:

It would be easy, at this point, for me to exaggerate just how far back a person can set themselves after losing a “do-it-yourself” case and use that as an argument why someone shouldn’t try it. By scaring someone out of trying, I could then potentially induce them to hire us, instead.

The fact of the matter, though, is that after more than 30 years, and out of the thousands of license appeal cases we’ve handled before the Michigan Secretary of State, we have never come across an unsuccessful “do-it-yourself” appeal that we couldn’t fix. There may have been a few that had to wait a while longer to file than others, but we’ve never had someone screw things up beyond what some extra time and effort couldn’t repair.

Thus, I return to the idea that if you want to give it a shot, go for it.

Then call us for next year’s appeal.

Our firm guarantees that if we take your case, we’ll win it. Our guarantee isn’t limited to just going back one more time, either (although, thankfully, we’ve never had to do more than that). Instead, it is simple, but complete: You’ll pay us once and you WILL win your license back, period.

The reason this is important is that we COUNT ON earning our money by winning our cases the first time around, not by having to come back and do the whole thing all over again, the next year, as free “warranty work.” Thus, we are equally invested as our clients in a first-time win.

Accordingly, the choice of trying a “do-it-yourself” license appeal versus hiring us isn’t about “chances,” it’s about certainty.

If you hire us, you win.

Nevertheless, we have learned, just by the sheer number of our clients who did initially try on their own before hiring us, that lots of people don’t quite see it that way, at least at first, and that’s fine.

Whatever your inclination, take some time and explore the driver’s license restoration section of this blog. With more than 640 highly detailed and helpful articles to date, it has far more information about the license appeal process than you can find any and everywhere else combined, and, on top of that, it’s fully searchable.

If you’re looking to hire a lawyer, be a savvy consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers explain the different aspects of license appeal cases, and how they explain their various approaches to them.

When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually speaking with a live person.

Our firm can handle your case no mater where you live. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.

We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.

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