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Veteran [Tom Messana] To Help Tampa Bankruptcy Firm Build S. Fla. Presence (January 10, 2022)

By Nathan Hale · 

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Law360 (January 10, 2022, 8:25 PM EST) — 

In a move that reunites one of the firm’s principals with a former mentor, Tampa, Florida-based Underwood Murray PA has added a veteran attorney who brings decades of bankruptcy experience, including from work on a number of landmark cases.

Thomas Messana, who joins the firm in an of counsel role, most recently ran his own firm, Messana PA. He will maintain his base in Fort Lauderdale to help build up Underwood Murray’s presence in South Florida, the firm said.

“As a practitioner in South Florida for decades, Tom enhances our firm’s Southern District of Florida presence, allowing an office location in the district, but primarily a connection with the bar community that would be nearly impossible to match through any other addition to the firm,” Scott Underwood told Law360. “As close colleagues for years, the fit of Tom into Underwood Murray has been seamless.”

Underwood’s relationship with Messana goes back to Underwood’s law school days, when he worked as a summer associate at a large Broward County law firm where Messana served as his mentor. After graduating, Underwood worked as an associate and partner for Messana’s own firm.

Over the years, the two have maintained that professional connection, with Messana describing himself as a close ally of Underwood Murray and noting that he introduced one of the firm’s members, Adam Gilbert, to Underwood and firm co-founder Megan Murray while Gilbert was still a law clerk for U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Raymond Ray.

For his part, Messana brings more than three decades of experience handling bankruptcy matters.

He has represented trustees and creditors in several of the country’s largest Ponzi scheme-related bankruptcy cases, including the $1.2 billion scheme orchestrated by attorney Scott Rothstein through the Fort Lauderdale firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler PA and the Bernie Madoff case.

Messana also represented the trustee of a Venezuelan national shipping line in a landmark case where his client obtained one of the first nationwide injunctions against creditor action, according to the firm.

Messana has also counted the Federal Trade Commission and 11 state attorneys general as clients in a bankruptcy case that recovered $8.3 million for consumers.

Outside the courtroom, he established the Bankruptcy Bar Foundation, a nonprofit that funds pro bono representation for people in need of bankruptcy-related help, according to the firm.

Underwood Murray, which focuses on commercial insolvency, was formed in June 2020 and has already more than doubled its roster, according to the firm.

Messana, who noted he started his highly rated boutique with Underwood’s help in 2008, at the beginning of the Great Recession, said he expects a similarly busy period in the near future.

“I am pleased to join Scott and Megan to gear up for what I believe will be an absolute deluge of reorganizations and restructuring emerging from the pandemic,” he said. “To me, it feels like a homecoming, reuniting with family.”

–Editing by Robert Rudinger.


  • TBBJ: Bankruptcy Chair, Two Other Attorneys, Leave BIPC in Tampa to Start Their Own Practice (Click Here)
  • “The idea of having a specialty, smaller firm in bankruptcy has always been in the back of my mind,” Underwood said. “It was only when coronavirus changed our lives and made us think about what we wanted to do that [leaving Buchanan Ingersoll] began to materialize … looking toward the horizon and the amount of companies needing help right now, it made sense to leave.”
  • On June 1, 2020, Scott Underwood and Megan Murray left the world of a national law firm to create Underwood Murray, a law firm focused on guiding businesses, owners, and investors through the most distressed times, including formal bankruptcy or state court insolvency matters. The firm combines attorneys that have been recognized more than three dozen times for being among the Florida’s elite legal practitioners.
  • Prior to creating Underwood Murray, Scott Underwood was the national practice group chair of one of the largest firms in the United States. Prior to that role, Mr. Underwood was the practice group chair for a large, state-wide firm’s litigation practice.  Among other awards, Mr. Underwood has been recognized as being one of the Tampa area’s 50 best lawyers in any practice area.  Underwood looks forward to lending his own business management knowledge to his clients’ matters, combined with his frequently recognized legal excellence.
  • Ms. Murray has recently been recognized nationally as one the American Bankruptcy Institute’s 2019 40 Under 40, recognizing the most prominent bankruptcy and insolvency practitioners in the nation.  Ms. Murray is also the Co-Chair of the American Bankruptcy Institutes’ Real Estate Committee and in local leadership roles within the Tampa Bay legal and business communities.  Ms. Murray is eager to continue her legal career in an environment that permits her to help businesses maximize their value during difficult or litigious matters.

Scott Underwood Talks "Now or Never" and COVID19 Silver Linings

  • Bankruptcy Attorney Seizes the Moment (Click Here)
  • It takes some expert reading of the tea leaves to figure out the perfect time to launch a niche firm like Underwood and Murray have done, and he admits that even though business bankruptcies are up, there aren’t quite as many as he expected. He attributes that to the fact that many businesses are in wait-and-see mode because they were able to make it through the initial economic shutdown and uneven reopening thanks to resources like federal PPP loans.

    “I can foresee a lot of businesses choosing to file Chapter 11 once the economy gets back to normal,” Underwood says. “Maybe if there’s a vaccine at some point in early 2021, there might be a rash of filings.”

Megan Murray's insights on another retail bankruptcy and Paycheck Protection Loans in bankruptcy (August 15, 2020)

Scott Underwood presses the need to have an exit plan if you are going to enter Chapter 11 (August 14, 2020)

  • A wave of bankruptcies is coming to Tampa Bay, but when? (Click Here)
  • Underwood said the pandemic’s effect on the economy makes it “very hard to reorganize because you can’t demonstrate future revenues.” Businesses will only be able to do that when the economy gets back on track, but when that will happen is anyone’s guess, and probably won’t happen until after a vaccine is created, Underwood said. 
  • “The next wave of bankruptcies will be driven by two factors: when will the government stop providing assistance, and when does the economy truly reopen?” Underwood said. “A lot of national studies are predicting [the wave of bankruptcies] to come during the third quarter of 2020. But it might not be until Q4, or Q1 of 2021.”

Scott Underwood gives thoughts to Tampa Bay WFLA 970 on new stimulus package and how Tampa Bay Businesses can best plan for the future (July 27, 2020)

  •  WFLA 970 Radio Link  
  • On July 27, 2020, Scott Underwood recognizes the concerning data posed by LendingTree’s recent survey suggesting 26.5% of businesses in Tampa Bay did not have enough cash to make it through the next month. Mr. Underwood recommends frequent and honest communication with vendors, landlords and business counter parties. 

Scott Underwood's insights on Tampa Bay Businesses' Ability to Weather the Coronavirus Storm (July 24, 2020)

  • TBBJ: Tampa Bay Businesses Have More Cash on Hand than Other Cities, but Trouble Still Lies Ahead (Click Here)
  • We have a pretty high number of businesses that don’t know, which might be a scarier answer than having less than a month,” said Scott Underwood, a bankruptcy attorney and founder of Tampa’s Underwood Murray PA. “From a planning perspective, if you don’t know what your cash needs are, that’s a real problem.”
  • Underwood said he was unsure why Tampa had fared better than most of the country and even close neighbors like Orlando. He said the area’s relatively low rents might be one explanation. But he did not see a lot of good news in the survey results — even for Tampa Bay.
  • “What jumped out to me was how consistent the numbers were across the county,” he said. “There are five or six at the top that are higher up, but everyone else was within 8 or 9 percentage points. … Even if Tampa is near the bottom, 25 percent only have enough for a month, and that’s still pretty alarming.”

Megan Murray opines on the Washington Post's discussion of retail bankruptcies (July 23, 2020)

  • Washington Post: What is Chapter 11 Bankruptcy? Here’s What it all Means (Click Here)
  • For many retailers, a Chapter 11 filing is the only viable way to pull out of a decades-long lease at a shopping mall or strip center. For example, J. Crew — which filed for bankruptcy on May 4 citing more than $1 billion in debt — has sought to “reject” 67 of its nearly 500 lease agreements.
  • “For retailers that overextended themselves … this is a rare opportunity to cut back,” said Megan Murray, an attorney at Underwood Murray, a Tampa firm that specializes in bankruptcy law. “When used correctly, Chapter 11 can bring new life to a struggling company.”

Murray discusses the state of play of retail bankruptcies during COVID 19 (June 10, 2020)

  • Expect Another Wave of Retail Bankruptcies by Year End (Click Here)
  • Murray thinks even those companies that survive 2020 without going bankrupt will not look the same. “I think once the PPP money runs out and some restaurants and retailers make a pivot and decide they are going to change their structure for good, they are not going to open in the same ways,” she said. “I think we are going to have some real lasting effects. We may not be feeling anything yet.”

Underwood Murray Attorneys Recognized by Chambers & Partners

  • Chambers & Partners has recognized the attorneys of Underwood Murray as among the State of Florida’s best bankruptcy attorneys and litigators. Chambers’ quoted clients describing Scott Underwood as able to ” advise on any given litigation and he understands the business and the legal side.”  Underwood has now been recognized by Chambers & Partners every year since 2012.  Chambers also recognized Megan Murray, noting clients consider her to be “a hard worker who is passionate and committed to the work.”

Scott Underwood Again Recognized Statewide

  • Scott Underwood was recognized, for the thirteenth consecutive year as among Florida’s best bankruptcy attorneys. Underwood’s top-level legal acumen has again been recognized by U.S. News & World Reports Best Lawyers in America, Chambers & Partners U.S.A, Florida Legal Elite, and Florida Super Lawyers.

Megan Murray Receives Prestigious American Bankruptcy Institute’s 2019 40 Under 40 Award

  • Megan Murray has been recognized by the preeminent national organization of bankruptcy and insolvency professionals as one of the top 40 professionals under 40 years old. This aware is not limited to lawyers, but also includes accountants, fiduciaries and other professionals servicing the bankruptcy industry.  Murray’s honor is a rare and exceptional recognition of her legal skill among others nationwide.

Megan Murray Ascends to Co-Chair of the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Real Estate Committee

  • In April of 2020, Megan Murray became Co-Chair of the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Real Estate Committee. ABI is the preeminent national association of bankruptcy attorneys and other insolvency professionals, including accountants, fraud examiners, and fiduciaries.

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