Woman faked email reference to get law firm job

SRA: Section 43 orders

A woman who set up a fake law firm email address so as to provide a bogus reference to a real firm looking to employ her has been banned from working in the profession.

Sameena Usmani is one of several non-solicitors who have recently been made subject to orders under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974.

This means they cannot work for firms regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) without its permission.

According to a notice published by the SRA on Friday, in March 2018 Clarity Family Law Solicitors in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire employed Ms Usmani as an administrative assistant. The firm subsequently dismissed her.

The SRA said that, in applying for the job, Ms Usmani submitted a CV with false information about her employment history and acquired a domain name which was deliberately similar to that of another law firm.

She then used that domain name to provide Clarity with a fake email address for it to seek a reference for her and responded to that request falsely purporting to be someone else. This corroborated the false information she had given. Her conduct was found to be dishonest.

Saisha Zaheer, who was a paralegal for four years at Halifax firm Arrans Solicitors until February 2018 has also been made subject to a section 43 order.

The SRA said she acted in two conveyancing transactions which bore the hallmarks of fraud, and later provided false information to an SRA forensic investigation officer. Her conduct was also found to be dishonest.

Another section 43 order has been handed to Janet Barbara Neate, a self-employed consultant formerly with north London firm Armstrong Private Client Solicitors.

Ms Neate worked in the wills and probate administration department for a year to August 2017. A legal executive with 25 years’ experience, she was a member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives until she ended her membership in November 2018.

The SRA said Ms Neate and her husband gifted £60,000 to their son to help him to purchase a property with his partner, and she drew up a declaration of trust to record how the beneficial interests in the property were held.

The declaration was signed in her presence, and but not that of the junior member of staff at the firm she later asked to witness them as well. The member of staff did so but a dispute arose and the declaration was declared invalid.

The SRA said Ms Neate’s conduct “makes it undesirable for her to be involved in a legal practice because her actions demonstrate she is willing to influence others to make false declarations on formal legal documents”.

In mitigation, she said she was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and has apologised for the misconduct and co-operated with the SRA’s investigation.

Another decision saw barrister Michael Shrimpton – who in 2014 was jailed for a bomb hoax at the London Olympics – made subject to a section 43 order.

Mr Shrimpton was disbarred by a Bar disciplinary tribunal last year and the High Court rejected his appeal in April. He was also convicted in 2014 of making indecent photographs or pseudo/photographs of children.

Separately, the SRA has issued a rebuke and £2,000 fine to Bloomsbury Law Solicitors for two rule breaches: failing to comply with a county court order to pay a person had made a £1,077 claim against the firm, and not providing details of its insurer to a former client when requested by them and the SRA to do so.

The notice said the firm did not appeal the findings but appealed the order, but an adjudication panel dismissed it.

The sanction is the most severe the SRA can hand out without referring the case to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

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