Lawyer who secretly changed origination credits to his benefit should be suspended, ethics panel says

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An Illinois lawyer who inadvertently discovered he was able to alter origination credits on his office computer should be suspended for making changes that added more than $200,000 to his book of business, according to an ethics hearing board.

Michael Joseph Shifrin should be suspended for one year for making the unauthorized changes through the law firm’s office management software, according to the Hearing Board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

The changes, made while Shifrin was working at Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit, added at least $30,000 to his origination compensation, according to the hearing board’s April 26 report and recommendation. The Legal Profession Blog published highlights.

Shifrin made the changes between May 2014 and April 2018 when he was a nonequity partner in the law firm’s condominium department. Among the lawyers affected were the managing partner, Robert Kogen, and Shifrin’s best friend at the law firm.

The law firm discovered the problem after another lawyer asked why some matters were not reflecting a split in origination credit. Shifrin was fired after first denying then admitting he had made the changes. He later repaid the amount of money he made from the scheme.

Shifrin testified he began making the changes because he thought origination credit was improperly allocated and some people were riding on his coattails.

His book of business was one of the largest among nonequity partners. He generated business by attending industry trade shows, writing articles, teaching classes at the Community Association Institute, offering free seminars and receiving referrals from property managers.

The hearing board said Shifrin’s frustration with the compensation system “could have been addressed by honest means, including resignation from the firm. Although no clients were harmed by respondent’s dishonesty, his willingness to steal from his own partners and close friend is a disturbing circumstance which indicates to us that something more than a short suspension is needed to protect the public.”

The report noted several mitigating factors. Shifrin is involved in a charitable group that raises money to combat a children‘s skin disease and participates in his children’s school activities. Five witnesses testified to his good character and honesty, including a lawyer who worked with him at KSN.

He currently has his own law practice representing community associations, and he says he has tried to be honest with them about his disciplinary case. He has no prior record of discipline.

In aggravation, Shifrin’s misconduct involved more than 200 acts in which he changed the credits. “We saw no indication that he would have ceased his actions had he not been caught,” the hearing board said.

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