Being a Driver’s License Restoration Lawyer puts me in a specialty with only a handful, at most, of other Lawyers with a similar Practice concentration. It can, at times, be a bit lonely, in that I simply never find myself exchanging war stories with anyone who does as much of what I do for a living. Recently, I have developed a friendship with another Restoration Lawyer a number of Counties away, but aside from her, there’s really no one else with whom I can compare notes.
That’s not to say that I don’t receive my fair share of inquiries from other Lawyers who find this blog, and my website, and contact me with a question or two. However, in those situations, our experience isn’t nearly as lateral as it is vertical.
But I’m not complaining. I get time enough for the normal Professional contact when I’m in the back room of some Courthouse, surrounded by Prosecutors and other Defense Lawyers as I handle a DUI, or some other Criminal case.
Yet this got me to thinking about why being a License Restoration Lawyer is so specialized, and wondering what, if anything, is so different about my membership in this ultra small group, beyond the extensive experience I have handling and winning License Appeals?
The answer, it seemed to me, is that I have a deep and detailed knowledge and understanding of the concepts of addiction, alcoholism, and the whole process of Recovery. This subject, at least for me, has been a field of study in which I have engaged for nearly 20 years.
When we look at those Attorneys who are Patent Lawyers, we find that the vast majority of them have engineering, or similar backgrounds. There probably isn’t a Patent Lawyer out there, or certainly not many, who earned their College Degree in English, or Sociology. They have to know the mechanical workings of the things they are trying to Patent, and an engineering, or similar background (like chemistry for someone Patenting drugs) is more or less a basic, foundational requirement to work in that field. In a very real way, they have to understand how the Law applies to a whole other discipline.
For the same reason, Tax Lawyers have backgrounds in Taxation.
At the heart of any License Appeal lie the issues of alcoholism (and/or addiction) and Recovery. It is one thing to understand that those issues are present, and quite another to understand them in depth. In other words, just like Patent Law, being a good License Restoration Lawyer means applying the Law to a whole other discipline.
If the ultimate questions in a Driver’s License Restoration Appeal are whether or not the person’s alcohol (and/or substance abuse) problem is under control, and whether or not that problem is likely to remain under control, then it only makes sense that, in order to answer that question, a person had better be familiar with the subject.
Yet that oversimplifies things to the point of distortion. One key benefit I bring to the table in these cases is that I was taught about alcohol and substance abuse and Recovery not from any single school of thought, but from a holistic perspective. In other words, I didn’t learn that AA was the only answer to an alcohol problem, nor did I learn that it isn’t, and that some other program, like Rational Recovery or Secular Sobriety is. Instead, I was taught that there is a whole panorama of approaches to Recovery and Sobriety, and that each approach may work better for any one person than another.
This means, for example, that John Doe may find all kinds of help and lifelong Recovery at AA. However, Jane Doe may hate it. She might find more help at Rational Recovery, or be able to learn what she needs from one-on-one Counseling.
In order to understand how Recovery works, it is first necessary to understand the diseases of alcoholism and addiction. One cannot understand “the cure” unless they first understand the various stages and progression of the underlying disease.
In the world of License Appeals, alcoholism, for example, is evaluated and understood in its two DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) classifications: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.
Understanding this is a basic requirement in order to successfully handle License Restorations. In that regard, I sometimes have to help a Client understand that an “alcoholic” isn’t really what typically first comes to mind when we use that word. This is where education refines our understanding.
Had someone asked me, 25 years ago, if I know what an alcoholic was, I would have said “yes,” then gone on to describe someone who drank to excess daily, or close to it. I would have, in effect, described a white-haired, white bearded skid row “drunk,” or at least something close to it.
I had to learn that what I thought of back then as an “alcoholic” was, in fact, a person who was “alcohol dependent,” which is just a later stage of the larger disease of alcoholism. While every bit an alcoholic, my understanding of the term was too narrow and limited to include those who we might simply describe as having a “drinking problem.”
Thus, a younger person who may be accurately and clinically diagnosed as an alcohol abuser, and who is in no way yet alcohol dependent, is no less an “alcoholic.” Think binge drinker….
Of course, for any other “geeks” out there, like me, who are into the minutia of this stuff, the two larger classes of “alcoholism,” alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, can themselves be further subdivided into early stage problem drinking, middle stage problem drinking, alcohol dependence, and chronic alcohol dependence.
Understanding the disease of alcoholism (or addiction), and how it progresses, is key to understanding how any approach to Recovery works.
One such approach, in particular, tends to think of itself as the only way to get and stay sober. And that may be true for many of those who follow that path, but if one buys that without question, it then means that anyone else cannot get and stay sober by following any other path. That would mean, then, that if I bought into that, I couldn’t really help anyone get back on the road unless they followed that particular plan, because I would believe there is only one program that can help a person get and stay sober.
Instead, I was taught that there are numerous approaches to Recovery, and any one may be the right one for person “A,” while that same approach may be precisely the wrong one for person “B.” The larger idea here is a kind of take on the saying “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
In my License Restoration Practice, I have seen lots of things. One thing that I have more or less been able to solve is the issue of the Substance Abuse Evaluation, which is a State form that must be completed by a Substance Abuse Counselor and filed as part of the Request for a License Appeal. Early on, it was hit or miss in terms of finding a good Substance Abuse Evaluation.
As I gained experience, I learned that rather than let my Clients go to some random place to have it completed, I began recommending a few places that I knew did a good job on these Evaluations. And by “good job,” I DO NOT mean that they say what I want them to say. The State is all over that kind of quackery. Instead, a “good” Evaluation is one that is rock-solid, and has an unimpeachable degree of integrity. As a result, any place that does a “good job” will just as soon NOT produce a favorable Evaluation as it will generate on that is, in fact, favorable. “Good,” in that sense, means accurate.
I kind of liken this to an athlete getting an x-ray of his or her ankle before they are allowed to join a team. If they go into a clinic, and say they need a “good” x-ray, the Radiologist might ask “do you mean ‘good’ in the sense that you want an accurate picture of the joint, or do you mean ‘good’ in the sense that it had better show the ankle to be strong and un-fractured? We’ll give you crystal clear, accurate x-ray, but whatever it shows, it shows. On the other hand, if you expect us to give you a picture of what you want the x-ray to show, rather than an accurate picture, forget it. What do you think we’re going to do, grab a bottle of white-out and paint over any fractures that might show up?”
As different Evaluations crossed my desk, I had to contend with the prejudices of some Evaluators who felt that the ONLY way to get and stay sober was to regularly attend AA, even thought the Client may have gone for a time, and left when they felt they had gotten what they needed, and felt comfortable enough in their own sober lifestyle to maintain it without having to attend a support group.
Other Evaluations resulted in all manner of divergent diagnosis and prognosis.
In time, I learned that some places were just better than others at doing these, and common to all of the places I liked was that they, too, believed that some programs worked well for some people, and not so much for other folks. Some of those “other folks” might find better sobriety using a completely different approach than another person. In other words, different approaches work for different people. At its simplest, this means AA is great for some, but not necessary for others.
From my perspective, being able to evaluate this is a product of my extensive and ongoing study of alcoholism, addiction and Recovery. The knowledge I have accumulated allows me identify the issues a Client has BEFORE they ever have an evaluation completed, and therefore allows me to help the Client prepare for that evaluation.
In a very real way, as I have noted in another article, everyone’s Recovery is really their “Recovery Story.” And everyone’s “story” is different. My job is to help the Client sketch out and frame that story.
While this might be easier for someone who regularly attends AA, it can be a bit harder for someone who just “got it,” years ago, after their last DUI, and who, through Counseling and/or a brief time at AA, came to fundamentally understand that they can longer drink. With these Clients, we must go back in time and talk about that “a-ha” moment, and how it transformed them, and what they did to eliminate alcohol (and/or drugs) from their lives, and how they built a new, sober lifestyle thereafter. I have to help them find the words for their story.
But understanding that a person was, at that time, alcohol abusive, or perhaps alcohol dependent, is a prerequisite to really getting a handle on that story. How can a Lawyer help a person write the story of their Recovery if he or she doesn’t know what’s involved in the disease from which they are recovering, or the different and various approaches to that Recovery?
I don’t think it’s possible. Just as a Patent Lawyer needs to know engineering in order to understand the concept of what’s being Patented in some new process, or machine, a License Restoration Lawyer needs to understand AA, and why it works so well for some people, and how others can do just fine without it. And I don’t mean that they simply know that’s the case, but that they understand the physiological and psychological components of those processes.
In that regard, I suppose it helps that my Undergraduate Degree is in Psychology.
Yet a person can be a PhD in Psychology and not have a clue about Recovery, while another person can be functionally illiterate, yet, having been through Recovery themselves, have a fundamental, working knowledge of some of the more important components of the Recovery process.
As the Lawyer for someone who must go before the State and prove that their alcohol problem is under control, and, most importantly, that their alcohol problem is likely to remain under control (meaning that they are a safe bet to never drink again), it is important that I fully understand all the facets of an “alcohol problem,” as well as all the things that must happen for that problem to remain “under control,” meaning that the person can find and sustain Recovery.
And I do. This is why, on top of everything else, I can offer a GUARANTEE that I will win any case I accept the first time, or else I will continue to represent the Client before the DAAD, without further Fee, until they get back on the road.
Being a good Driver’s License Restoration Lawyer requires specialized knowledge and experience. As important as this is, it is probably secondary to a potential Client doing enough homework to understand that, lest they wind up losing a License Appeal because they hired some Lawyer who merely claimed to “do” License Appeals and didn’t have enough confidence in his or her own skills to offer a win guarantee.