A lawyer will help maximize the chances of getting your license back, but the Driver Assessment and Appeal’s Division (DAAD) of the Michigan Secretary of State does not require that you be represented by a lawyer. It is possible to do it yourself, but this is not recommended.
The reason lawyers are helpful is because you have the burden of proof and must show by clear and convincing evidence that your substance use disorder is under control and likely to stay that way, and that you are at minimal risk for repeat behavior. Most of the time your evidence and testimony must demonstrate a minimum period of 12 continuous months of abstinence. You will be required to submit your evidence to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who will weight this evidence and determine if you’ve met your burden.
At the hearing the evidence your evidence should consist of 3-6 letters of support, a substance use evaluation, AA sign in sheets, or other documentary evidence of your participation in a 12-step program and your sworn testimony. Your lawyer will assist you in making sure all of your evidence is in order and is presented in the most effective way possible. Also, your lawyer should help to prepare your testimony by discussing the parameters of your testimony and guiding you through a “question and answer” practice dry run prior to the hearing. This is especially important because you will probably be very nervous at the hearing, and giving testimony is difficult even for experienced witnesses. Plus, the ALJ will be able to ask you questions, and an experienced license restoration lawyer will know what to expect and help you prepare for these questions as well.
Even if you have maintained your sobriety, avoided any traffic tickets, and completed your probation, it is still a difficult task to get your license reinstated. A great attorney can be the difference between driving to work and walking for another year or longer. This is a legal proceeding with a specific burden of proof and evidentiary requirements. Without an attorney to help navigate the legal waters, it is likely that evidence will be submitted incorrectly. This can lead to a failure at the hearing, which will prevent you from applying for another year. Even worse, if bad evidence is submitted, it can be considered at the next hearing and effectively prevent you from driving for many years.
While many attorneys will claim to handle these hearings, many handle only a few a year. Even worse, some substance abuse counselors will claim that you do not need an attorney. Some substance use counselors hold themselves out to be ‘experts,’ but they are not lawyers and cannot advise you on the law. Taking driver license restoration advice from a person with a mental health degree is like taking criminal law advice from a cop. Yes, they have some experience and knowledge, but they don’t understand the subtle complexities of the process and this can result in misleading or incorrect advice. Also, substance use counselors cannot appear as your representative to assist you at your hearing. They are not trained in the legal process that is required to return your privileges.
Instead, it is essential that you have a lawyer on your side who has years of successful experience representing people before the DAAD, and who knows the ALJ’s and all of the specific processes involved including all the potential pitfalls that often occur. Your attorney should handle these cases on a regular basis and not be in the “learning the process” stage of their own professional development. A breadth of prior experience will allow your attorney to be able to recommend places where you can get testing and substance use assessments and have a great understanding of how to best help the counselor put forth the best evidence in your case.
Your attorney should also be able to tell you about each ALJ that you will potentially encounter and be prepared to craft your hearing testimony to satisfy that individual. While the cost of a great attorney may be higher, their knowledge and familiarity with the process will save you more in the long run than making the cheaper choice up front. Following this advice your team will consist of a great lawyer and an experienced and knowledgeable substance use evaluation counselor. Together with your well prepared testimony the chances of success the first time will be maximized, making this investment money well spent.