The other day, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the few other “big time” Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers. This attorney has been in the field for well over 30 years, and, like me, she has a website with a name that predates any slick idea of using target words like “driver’s license restoration” in the title. This stands in rather stark contrast to the new crop of “McLicense” lawyers and websites I wrote about in a recent article. In this piece, I want to look at at the very foundation of driver’s license appeals the other lawyer and I discussed – the required documents – and why experience is so important when it comes to those things.
Even the most superficial examination of the documentation necessary to win a license restoration appeal could fill a library, so our mission here will be, in a play on words, to look at how we look at those documents. What I find most troubling is that the discussion I had with the other lawyer was largely beyond the experience and grasp of all those “McLicense” lawyers. Anyone can file a “do-it-yourself” license appeal, or even hire some lawyer to just “file” one for them. What matters, though, is whether that person or lawyer really knows what they’re looking at, and what to look for within the required documents.
In other words, does the person filing the appeal really know how to properly check over the substance use evaluation, letters of support, and request for administrative review before filing? My driver’s license restoration lawyer colleague observed, in a “shop talk” kind of way, that it takes a lot of work to prepare, assemble, review and file these things. Each of these documents must be done correctly in the first place, and that alone requires a lot of effort. Then, before they are filed, each must be checked and re-checked – not just for typos and such – but also to make sure the information contained in each is consistent, both with itself, and with the others.
Although it may not seem like it, the job of properly handling a Michigan driver’s license restoration case is actually quite tedious. There is a lot that goes into doing things right, and that that demands focused attention to detail. Key here in all this is the word “properly,” because just about anyone can throw a bunch of paperwork together and file a case with the Michigan Secretary of State, but that’s far from enough to have any chance of actually winning it.
Let’s begin by reviewing what is legally required to win a license appeal case. To do that, a person must prove 2 things, by what is defined in the law as clear and convincing evidence:
First, that his or her alcohol problem is “under control.” That means the person must show that he or he has been completely abstinent from alcohol for a “legally sufficient” period of time. The exact period can vary from case to case, but, generally speaking, we want at least 18 months of sobriety before we’ll consider filing a case, and
Second, that the person’s alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control.” This requires demonstrating that he or she has both the ability and commitment to never drink again, and otherwise shows themselves to be a safe bet to remain sober for life.
Proving that a person has been alcohol-free and has the tools and commitment to live out a sober lifestyle are the principle functions of the letters of support and the substance use evaluation (SUE for short, though it’s often mistakenly called a “substance abuse evaluation”).
Even though they overlap in function to some extent, the letters of support are the primary evidence submitted to show that a person has been abstinent from alcohol, while the evaluation is really the foundation for the proposition that the person is a “safe bet” to never drink again.
As far as proof goes, the letters and evaluation must be “clear and convincing.” That means, in essence, that each of these documents must hit what can essentially be described as a “home run.” There is no such thing as “good enough” in this context; instead, this evidence better be “damn near perfect.”
To make that happen, there are important things that need to be done, even before a person goes for his or her substance use evaluation, or any letter is written.
Accordingly, one of our first jobs it to prepare the client for the substance use evaluation. This is done at our first meeting, even if that happen in a “virtual” setting now, during the Coronavirus pandemic. This alone takes several hours.
When we feel the client is ready, we’ll then send him or her to our evaluator, making sure the he or she has been provided with all the necessary information to give the evaluator so that it’s included in the evaluation.
Usually, among other things, we send the client with a color-coded copy of his or her driving record so that the evaluator gets what is needed to accurately list things like the person’s conviction history, along with a special form of our own creation, called a “Substance Abuse Evaluation Checklist,” that highlights the key facts of his or her recovery.
Right now, during the Coronavirus pandemic, some of this is being is being handled through email and such, but no matter how it’s done, we make sure our evaluator has everything needed to complete a thorough evaluation that meets our standards.
And by “our standards,” I mean good enough for us to provide our GUARANTEE to win every first time driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal case we take.
So yeah, our standards are pretty high…
It’s the same for the letters of support. A lot of effort goes into them, as well:
First, we have to explain the whole purpose of the letters to the client, meaning how they’re used by the Michigan Secretary of State hearing officers, along what information they should contain, and – every bit as important – what should be left out.
Second, we provide an example (template) letter for the client’s letter writers to use as a reference point.
Third, we instruct the client to provide us with draft copies of each letter, so we can review them and make corrections and edits. When that’s done, we’ll send the letters back to the client so he or she can get them re-written.
To be clear, about 99% of all letters need to be edited, no matter who writes them. The letters not only have to be consistent with one another, but also with all of the other information provided by the client, and particularly what’s included within the substance use evaluation and the request for administrative review.
Fourth, and finally, we have to re-check the revised letters to make sure that all of our corrections have been made.
When all of that has been done, we then have to cross-reference the documents above with the information provided by the client, and then complete the request for administrative review form, making sure everything across all documents is consistent.
Remember, my office has a guarantee on the line. If we lose a license appeal case, we’re stuck with it until it does win, and that means, at a minimum, that we have to do everything all over again the next year (for free) as “warranty work.”
On the bright side, though, this does make us as invested in winning each case as our clients, and provides a major incentive for us to make sure we check over everything and get it right before filing it.
To be blunt about it, unless someone works as a bona-fide driver’s license restoration lawyer, there is really no way for him or her to review the substance use evaluation, letters of support, and request for administrative review form and know what they’re looking at, much less what they should be looking for within them.
In the real world, many (if not most) attorneys just refer their clients out to have a substance abuse evaluation completed, relying upon the evaluator to make sure it’s good enough.
As I made clear in the recent article I linked above, unless someone does evaluations frequently, on a regular basis, and works closely with a driver’s license restoration lawyer like me or my team, he or she has no real way of knowing what’s “good enough,” either.
And remember, “good enough” isn’t really good enough, anyway. Using baseball terms again, the evaluation, just like every other document, has to hit that home run.
It’s this simple: No lawyer who “does” driver’s license appeals as part of a broader practice is likely to have a proper frame of reference for what needs to be in the letters of support, substance use evaluation, and request for administrative review, much less what should NOT be in them.
This is doubly true for any person winging a “do-it-yourself” appeal.
Another lawyer colleague of mine laments that people will sometimes bring pre-written letters of support to their first meeting with him (instead of waiting for his direction), and that absolutely all of them are what he calls “good guy” letters, meaning that instead of detailing a person’s abstinence from alcohol, the letters just focus on what a good person he or she is.
None of that matters a bit, and all of those letters are completely useless.
In fact, a person could be the meanest, most selfish a$$hole on the planet, but if his or her letters of support sufficiently detail his or her sobriety, then they’ll help the case. By contrast, if they do anything less, or other than that, they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on.
Unless a person can actually recognize what’s not sufficient to win a driver’s license restoration or clearance case, then he or she cannot determine what is “good enough.”
In that regard, someone could read every law, rule, and word ever written about Michigan license appeals, but that alone simply isn’t enough to know all the little things that can help or hurt a case. Those things have to be learned by experience, and that often entails learning them the hard way.
Fortunately, my team and I are long past all of that, and are, therefore, able to guarantee our work. Frankly, I can’t understand why anyone would even consider paying some lawyer who doesn’t guarantee his or her work, but that’s another subject in its own right.
If you are looking for a lawyer to win back your Michigan driver’s license, or help clear a Michigan hold on your driving record, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read what lawyers have written about the driver’s license appeal process, and how they explain their approach to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. 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 and explain things.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.