Matthew K. Maruca of Baker Donelson's Health Law Group in Houston. Courtesy photo

Matthew Maruca, who recently rejoined the health care group at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz in Houston, has straddled the outside firm/in-house divide during his relatively short career, and now he’s working on an MBA to better speak the language of business.

“I love being a lawyer, regardless of the form of my practice. I still think that business degree will make me a better lawyer. A lot of companies look to their counsel as much as business counsel as legal counsel,” Maruca said.

The executive MBA program that Maruca will start soon at the University of Texas at Austin is the latest step in the lawyer’s unusual career path that includes in-house and firm positions and a secondment at Houston’s Nobilis Health Corp.

“I’ve had a somewhat different track from some folks,” said Maruca, who has only been out of law school for eight years.

He’s been in and out of firms and legal departments since he graduated from Tulane University Law School in 2009. His first job was a staff attorney at a medical device company in the Boston area, but he moved to Houston in 2011 to take a job with the company now known as Nobilis.

Maruca said he decided then to join Strasburger & Price in Houston as an associate because of its health care group. “Being an in-house practitioner is great and interesting but there’s sort of an aspect of learning the ropes, as you will, so I went back to private practice,” he said.

In 2014, Maruca joined Baker Donelson, a firm with a large health care practice, along with three other health care lawyers, but he continued to maintain a close relationship with Nobilis. He said it was his primary client at that time, and because the health care development and management company was in expansion mode and doing a lot of deals, he was seconded there for most of each week.

“After a few months, it ended up turning into a full-time arrangement,” said Maruca, who just ended a three-year stint as general counsel at Nobilis. He said he helped the company execute a “rollup strategy” that boosted the revenue as it purchased small surgical hospitals and surgery centers throughout Texas and Arizona.

Maruca said he returned to Baker Donelson on an of counsel basis on July 3 so he would have flexibility to attend MBA classes on alternate weekends in Austin.

Maruca said Baker Donelson is a go-to firm for Nobilis, and has the third largest health care practice in the United States following the Memphis-based firm’s merger last fall with Baltimore’s Ober Kaler. “There’s a pretty tremendous breadth and depth in talent here,” he said in describing why he decided to return to Baker Donelson.

Bradley Chambers, managing shareholder of Baker Donelson’s Houston office, said the firm is glad to have him back.

“Matt’s experience as in-house counsel to a NYSE-company paired with his background as a private practice attorney make him a tremendous addition to our Houston team,” Chambers said in a July 19 press release.

Harry Fleming, CEO of Nobilis, said the company has not really lost Maruca, because Baker Donelson is a primary outside firm for Nobilis and Maruca will continue to represent it.

Fleming, an M&A/securities lawyer who also earned an MBA after he decided he wanted to move to the business side, said he encouraged Maruca to go for a business degree. “The problem I had back in the mid-90s, I just felt I wasn’t being taken seriously by people in moving to the business side of the transaction. Once I got the MBA, different story,” he said.