A significant percentage of my Driver’s License Restoration Practice involves representing Clients who have either moved out of the State of Michigan, or those who live rather far away from both my Office and the Livonia branch of the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), where I have all my Appeal Hearings conducted. A recent experience I had made clear just how critical and important the “prep session” that I have with all of my Clients, a day or two before their actual License Hearing, really is.
Ann, my Senior Assistant, had correctly told me that this particular Client, who lives on the west coast, would be flying in to Michigan the day before his Hearing. As she confirmed his attendance at the Hearing, she also, as a matter of course, verified his contact phone number so that I could call him to do our “prep session.” This “prep session” takes place a day or two before the Client’s actual hearing, and lasts anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. I often do it over the phone, in the evening, when there are no outside distractions or anything else than can interrupt me.
For whatever reason, I had misheard Ann, and thought my Client was coming in a day or two before his Hearing.
Having assumed my Client was already in town, I tried to call him in the early afternoon the day before his Hearing, as I was going to have an hour’s drive back to the Office from Court, and had already arranged with the Office to not interrupt me.
I called my Client, and got his voicemail. No big deal, I thought. I left him a message and indicated I’d call again.
On the drive home, I called again, and got the same voicemail. Again, I left a message, thinking that maybe he was busy catching up with family and friends.
After dinner, I called again. Got voicemail again. By this time, I was becoming a bit concerned.
A little while later, I placed another call, and, you guessed it, got his voicemail.
An hour after that, I placed another call, and upon getting his voicemail, I could not hide the concern in my voice. I told him I was worried that he left his phone back at home, and that we wouldn’t be able to go over everything before the next day’s Hearing. I envisioned his cell phone, sitting on his dresser, buzzing away….
A half hour later, I tried again, and this time he answered. He had retrieved my various voicemails, and knew I was beginning to freak out. He told me that he had just landed, and that his phone was dying, but he’d be at his hotel in a while, where he could plug it in. I happily told him I’d call back later.
And I did. Right out of the gate, I realized that Ann must had told me he was coming in the night before his Hearing, as most out-of-state Clients do. However, because I did not listen well enough, I thought he was already here, in Michigan, while his cell phone was sitting on the dresser, back home.
The sense of relief that I felt when my Client actually answered his phone was incredible. I was, to be honest, really freaking out.
And then I realized that my panic was caused by the fact that, for years and years, I have always had a “prep session” with my Clients a day or two before their Hearing, and that this was looking like the first time ever that might not happen. And I could not imagine going into the Hearing Room with a Client that I had not thoroughly prepped.
I realized, in short, how important the “prep session” before a Hearing really is.
There is really no way for me to summarize what takes place in these sessions, except to note that the Client and I will go over every aspect of their case, every aspect of the Hearing, and every aspect of the way the particular Hearing Officer to whom their case has been assigned will conduct that Hearing.
I often joke with my Clients, as I try to relax them and put them at ease, that we will spend at least twice as long preparing for the Hearing as we will in the Hearing itself will last. In many cases (as we did in the case of this Client), we’ll spend 3 times longer in the “prep session” than in the actual Hearing. In this particular case, my Client and I were on the phone for 90 minutes, while his License Hearing concluded in just over a half-hour.
And I need my own “prep session” to get ready for the Client’s “prep session.” I must read the whole file over again, taking my time to digest not only the indications of and conclusion in the Substance Abuse Evaluation, but also the details and insights of the Letters of Support, as well as anything else that might be relevant to the case.
This way, when I talk to the Client, I know what to point out as important, what might be asked about by way of clarification, and what we need not dwell upon. By concentrating my focus on the most salient aspects of their case, I can spend my time with the Client going over those things that are important. We can bone up on the story of their Recovery.
Part of my direction to every Client is for them to re-read their Letters of Support and their Substance Abuse Evaluation. I help the Client focus by pointing out what’s most important in the evidence they submitted. In other words, it’s not just as simple as me telling them to “read that stuff.” I need to be able to connect, for example, what has been said by Letter Writer X, with what the Evaluator noted, and how those things tie into the story of the person’s Recovery.
When I walk into the Hearing Room, as the Lawyer, I need to know what each of those letter writers has said. I need to be able to point out to the Hearing Officer, in my arguments, a specific line, or particular observation made by someone who has written a Testimonial Letter. Of course, I will have edited that letter earlier on, but I need to be able to recall that important line or observation from any of those Letters by memory alone. And in knowing the evidence this well, I can, as I said, direct the Client to focus on those facets of his or her case that are both helpful and important in the larger picture of being ready for the Hearing.
If, for example, a letter was to talk about how difficult it’s been for Dan the Driver to get around without a License, and how much Dan would absolutely appreciate not having to bum rides, I’d make sure the Client understood how utterly unimportant those observations are. In truth, no letter I’d submit would ever carry on too much about that in the first place, but we’re being hypothetical here. Instead, I’d point out to the Client that part of the letter that talks about the transformation he or she has undergone since they quit drinking, or, in the case of a more recent acquaintance, how the letter writer has never known the Client to be anything except a non-drinker.
The larger point here is that I cannot overstate how important the final “prep session” is. I cringe when someone tells me their Lawyer simply said they’d see them at the Hearing. Even in the easiest case I could possibly imagine, there would need to be about an hour’s prep time, at a minimum. As I see it, anyone else who doesn’t see it that way doesn’t see the whole picture.
I have pointed out, time and time again, that there are no shortcuts to preparing for and ultimately winning a License Appeal. And that’s the entire, simple truth. It takes a lot of work to make sure a case going forward will be a winner.
As I look back on the case that inspired me to write this article, I can kind of laugh now, even at myself. But I can also recall how panicked I was at the thought of not having that “prep session” with my Client the night before his Hearing, which was to take place the next morning, and how I started to become preoccupied with thoughts of all the things that could go wrong as a result. And that sense of panic I felt underscores just how important this last step in the process really is. I love my job, but I love it as much as I do because I take the time to do it well.