Legal Ethics

A lawyer's lies about her age lead to her downfall

A suspicious clerk at a London law firm didn’t think it was possible that lawyer Soma Sengupta was only 29 years old, the age listed in her application file.

The clerk was correct; Sengupta was in her late 40s at the time. The clerk’s discovery led to an investigation and criminal charges against Sengupta, who is now on trial in Manhattan on charges of forgery, the New York Times reports.

Sengupta is a Georgetown law grad and a licensed New York lawyer. But other claims about her work history and accomplishments were misrepresentations, prosecutors say.

The lies allegedly began when Sengupta applied for a paralegal job with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in 2000, according to trial testimony. Sengupta claimed she was eight years younger than her actual age, and she said she left law school before graduation, a statement that overcame the office’s ban on hiring lawyers as paralegals. She was fired when the office discovered that Sengupta was indeed a lawyer.

Sengupta’s next legal job was unpaid, the story says. She did volunteer work for the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project. Then she applied for admission to the British bar, transforming her legal work in New York into “a remarkable saga of courtroom derring-do,” the story says.

Sengupta said she had worked as a prosecutor targeting gang crimes in the DA’s office and as a staff lawyer for the Legal Aid society handling murder cases and other felonies, according to the Times. Reference letters from supervisors in those jobs were allegedly forgeries. Another reference letter, from Georgetown law professor Robert Drinan, was dated a year after his death.

Sengupta obtained a pupilage and then a barrister position at a London law firm where she was assigned about 80 criminal cases. When Sengupta’s age claim raised questions, the firm discovered she had listed four different birth dates on various forms. During the investigation that followed, Sengupta allegedly forged more documents to back up her claims, prosecutors allege, including a letter from the office of New York’s then attorney general, Eliot Spitzer.

Sengupta’s lawyer has not challenged allegations about forged documents and work history misrepresentations, the story says. Instead, the lawyer is basing the defense on “technical legal issues,” the story says.

Subsequent coverage: “Lawyer accused of inflating work history is convicted of forgery”

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