Getting your license back has never been more convenient! As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I never thought I’d say anything that sounded as cheesy as that, but because of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, we’re living in strange times, and a lot has changed in the legal world. In the context of license appeals, the Michigan Secretary of State has suspended in-person hearings, and is conducting them all virtually. As a consequence, our practice has likewise adapted and evolved, allowing us to do our client meetings virtually, as well.
Before I go any further, let me clarify a small, but important point: the “virtual” hearings taking place now are NOT the same as the video hearings previously used by the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS), which required a person to appear in a special video room at an SOS branch office. The sound and video quality of those hearings was terrible. The old, low-tech camera and boomy-sounding microphone sat up high on a shelf on the wall on the opposite side of the room, and produced a grainy picture with voices that sounded like they were coming from inside a giant metal can.
The online hearings of today are held using the Microsoft “Teams” app, and allow participants to log on anywhere there’s an internet connection. These are much more intimate and of far better quality than the kind of “closed circuit” system used before. I have always been vocal in my dislike of the video hearings the way they used to be done by the Secretary of State, before the pandemic. I have written numerous articles about why I would never have any of my cases heard that way, and nothing has changed about that.
These Microsoft Teams hearings, however, are different, better, and I like them.
Moreover, my team and I have found that conducting our client meetings virtually works just as well as doing them in-person, and it is a LOT more convenient. This is great news for anyone who previously had to figure out a way to our office, and particularly for those who live across the state, or out-of-state.
As a result of Coronavirus, the way the world does business is changing, and it is important for all businesses and professional service providers to keep up.
As a result, we’ve found that we can deliver our services – and get people back on the road – even better than before, while still guaranteeing to win every restoration and clearance appeal case we take.
I’d be less than candid if I didn’t admit to being a bit surprised by how well things have worked out, though. What I had suspected would be a second-rate, temporary substitute for the way things used to be done seems a lot more like evolution, and real progress now.
For as long as I can remember, our clients had to come to our office for our first meeting (it typically lasts about 2 hours), and then had personally attend their license appeal hearing.
This is consistent with the old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and in this case, it has saved a lot of people a lot of money.
Our practice is both state-wide and country wide, so the ability to do both client meetings and license appeal hearings virtually is a real break for a large slice of our client base.
At least 1/3 of our clients are people who no longer live in Michigan, and need a clearance to get rid of a Michigan hold on their driving record so they can obtain (or, in some cases, renew) a license in another state.
Over the decades, we have, quite literally, had clients come from every state in the country (including Alaska and Hawaii) to meet with us. All of these people had to find the time and money to make 2 trips back – first, to meet with us, and then later, to attend their actual license appeal hearing.
Now, these clients can meet with us, and then, later, “appear” for their hearing, all from the comfort of their couch, or kitchen table.
For as good and convenient as this all sounds, however, I wouldn’t be very happy about it if I felt it compromised our ability to win cases, or to guarantee our results.
This is serious, and is, as another old saying goes, “is where the rubber meets the road.”
Our office GUARANTEES to win every driver’s license restoration and clearance case we take. We will stick with a case until our client does win his or her license back, or wins the clearance of a Michigan hold on his or her driving record.
If we DON’T win a case the first time (that rarely ever happens), our guarantee means we have to do the whole case all over again, the next year, for free. Our deal is simple: You’ll only pay us once to get back on the road.
The truth, for us, is that we make our money winning these cases the first time, not having to come back and do them a second time, as “warranty work.” Thus, we are as invested in our clients’ success as they are.
This has been a main underlying factor for my dislike – and refusal to do – the kind of video hearing the Secretary of State used to do, before the pandemic. Because the whole process sucked so bad, I honestly felt it was a limiting factor, and I didn’t want to get stuck doing a case all over again, NOT because we missed something, but because the hearing officer did, due to not being able to hear and/or see our client clearly enough.
Sometimes, involuntary and /or subtle things, often found in body language, can communicate as much, if not more, than what the person is saying. Those things could get lost in the old style of video hearings.
Let me explain what used to constitute a “video” hearing to make my point:
As a set-up to this, it’s important to understand that there are 3 physical Michigan Secretary of State Office of Hearings and Administrative Oversight (OHAO) locations: Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Livonia. These are the places where the hearing officers have their actual offices, and where they are during any video hearings.
By contrast, there are many “video” locations. These are specific rooms set aside within most of the Secretary of State branch offices scattered all around the state.
Thus, instead of going to 1 of the 3 places (Grand Rapids, Lansing, or Livonia) where the hearing officers are located, a person could choose to go to a nearby branch office and sit in a video room to conduct his or her license hearing.
Inside whatever room was set aside for this purpose, a person would often find a table, a few chairs, and a TV screen with a big, remote controlled video camera with a built-in microphone next to it. Not to be too delicate about it, but these clunky units looked to be at least a dozen years old, and were probably in use before the first iPhone was ever released.
In other words, these were nothing like the kind of high-tech, hi-def cameras with good microphones that are built into modern smartphones and laptops.
A person showing up for a “video” hearing would be directed into the appropriate video room and wait for the TV monitor to activate and the hearing officer to appear. When that happened, the sound, boomy and otherwise just terrible, would also come on. The dull, grainy picture was not helped by the fact that the camera was mounted up high, on the far wall from both the hearing officer and the person in the video room.
I remember that the one and only time I wound up doing a video hearing, it was late afternoon, and I could hardly make out the hearing officer on the screen. I could NOT see any details of his face, and I can only wonder, given how the sun was streaming into our room, if he could see much of us, either.
As I noted before, and am about to explain, that’s a serious problem.
One of the biggest reasons I have always gone for live, in-person hearings is that they allow a hearing officer to see my client up close. I have long believed that small things – like when a person’s eyes well up with tears, or when his or her voice cracks with emotion – can make a huge difference in how the hearing officer perceives him or her.
We carefully screen our clients to make sure they are sober, and we know the people we bring to hearings are there to tell the truth. I want every nuance of my client’s body language to come out and be seen by the hearing officer.
I have sat next to countless clients who have gotten emotional as they related their recovery story to the hearing officer, and I know that the hearing officers have picked up on those cues that are really nothing less than hallmarks of genuine sobriety.
These things can’t be make it through a grainy picture with crappy sound.
My feelings about this are so strong that I have always refused to do any video hearings, even though the nearest video location is LESS than 5 minutes from my office, while the hearing office itself is nearly an hour away.
When the pandemic hit, and we had no choice but to do virtual hearings, I was admittedly skeptical, but soon found out that these were far more like high-def FaceTime meetings, and nothing like the 1990’s low-tech version that had been used up until then.
Right now, the Secretary of State is not conducting any hearings through any of its offices, so the hearing officers are working remotely, from home. As of this writing, and to the best of my knowledge, the plan is for this to continue at least though the beginning of 2021.
This may be (and, as things look now, likely will be) extended by necessity, but however that works out, I am hopeful that the new way of doing virtual hearings will remain an option, at least to some extent, permanently.
Whatever else, because of the overwhelmingly positive experience we have had, our practice will certainly continue offer virtual office meetings with our new and existing clients. We have learned that nothing is lost by conducting them virtually instead of in-person.
Except the hassle.
The benefit of the way things are being done right now is that the hearing officers are in a comfortable place, my team and I are in a comfortable place, whether we’re doing the hearing from home or while in the office, and our clients are comfortable, as well.
To be sure, we still meet with some clients in-person. We’re willing to do it that way for anyone who wants to come in. The big difference is that when someone wants to come to our office, we will only allow him or her into the meeting room, and he or she, like the lawyer, must wear a mask the entire time.
If a client elects to “meet” with us by video, then he or she is free to have anyone sit in with him or her. We always used to allow a client to bring anyone with them as an extra set of eyes and ears, but the pandemic has brought that practice to an end.
Some clients want to be with us when they have their hearing, so we can arrange to have them in our office for that. However, because of COVID, we will ONLY allow the client in the room with the attorney for the hearing, and will not permit anyone else to come in with them (for what it’s worth, I do not EVER call witnesses, and have written numerous articles explaining why doing so is an amateur mistake of the first order).
We’ve had clients who have needed or wanted to come in and meet with us, in person, to begin their cases, and we’ve had clients, whether they met with us in person or virtually at the outset, who have wanted to be with us, in the office, at the time of their hearing.
By and large, though, most people, are choosing to go fully virtual.
Obviously, this makes things a LOT easier for anyone who lives far away, and especially for any out-of-state clients. Instead of having to get a ride to our office (or get to Michigan in the first place), a person simply has to have an internet connection.
Accordingly, we can accommodate whatever works best for the client, and the good news is that we do it while still maintaining our win guarantee.
Thus, even though I never imagined myself saying it, the truth is that getting your license back has never been more convenient.
If you are looking for a lawyer to win back your Michigan driver’s license, or obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can legally drive in another state, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read around, and see how other lawyers explain how license appeals work, and how they explain their approach to the process.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by speaking with different law offices. 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 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.