From the mouth of a tiger

Attorney Robert Tuma invests in real estate, mentors others

By Karly Kovac ’16

From being the John Carroll prom king to becoming a fairly prominent lawyer in Cleveland who owns his own practice, Robert Tuma ’57 has taken his education in sociology and philosophy and used it to help orient his law practice, business investments, and personal relationships.

“I still have time to do more,” he says.

Even at the start of his career, Tuma wore many hats. He paid his own way through John Carroll – where he thought he would received the same excellent education and Jesuit influence he experienced at St. Ignatius High School – by working at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Co. as a helper and relay driver.

“I was thankful I had a job,” he says.

Tuma

Tuma

Playing in a local football league on Sundays with his classmates and being the impromptu guitar player for sing-a-longs at Carroll made him well known across campus.

After serving in the Army and coaching football at Fort Eustis in Virginia, Tuma started his professional career working at the Goodrich House, a service center for people in Cleveland that used programs to promote unity and break down barriers of mistrust among immigrants. Later, he worked as a parole officer and then worked in the juvenile court system. Soon after holding these positions, Tuma opened his law practice, Robert L. Tuma & Associates, in 1965 shortly after graduating from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

“I went out on my own and was proud of being my own person,” he says.

Tuma established his business with civil and criminal litigation and later focused on personal injury, probate, business, and real-estate issues. He has the nickname Tiger because of the way he played sports, and so he took that same aggressive approach with his law firm. He put a picture of a tiger on his first business card, which read “Robert Tiger Tuma.”

“Other lawyers didn’t like it because they thought it was too aggressive, so they complained to the bar association,” he says. “I received a letter from the association saying the only thing I was allowed to put on my card was the American flag, my picture, the scales of justice, or my name. So I went to the probate court, and changed my name from Robert Louis Tuma to Robert Louis Tiger Tuma.”

The other activities in Tuma’s life besides law have helped him provide for his family. One of these investments was “B and J’s Corned Beef Deli” named after himself and his wife, Joan. Another one of his investments was buying 700 acres of bottomlands in Scottsburg, Ind., in the early ’70s. The business venture was inspired by a conversation he had with his father long ago.

“Our family was driving to the store after church one day, and my father said, ‘You see that lot over there?’ ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘That lot was for sale for $50,000 dollars and someone just came in here and bought it for $150,000 dollars.’ I said, ‘Dad, why didn’t you buy it?’ He said, ‘I don’t have $50,000 dollars.’ And I said, ‘Dad, you have four brothers, and if each one of you got $10,000 together, and you bought it, you would have made $20,000 dollars.’ I couldn’t have been 13 years old, and I said, ‘If I ever get a chance to buy something like that and hold it, that’s what I’m going to do.’”

More about Tiger
• Represented Ryan Dunn, the late TV personality from the show, “Jackass”
• Plays the piano, accordion, guitar, harmonica, and ukulele
• Wrote and published a collection of short stories called “One Days”
• Wrote a chapter for the James Publishing Co. titled “Negotiating with the Insurance Adjustor”

For many years, Tuma allowed hunting, sharecropping, and logging on his land. He eventually sold the majority of it to the state’s Division of Wildlife as a part of a wetland preserve initiative.

A mentor to many
During the ’80s, Tuma took part in the Harvard Negotiation Project, a Boston-based class that taught its students to strive for compromise and conflict management as an integral part of the court system. After returning to Cleveland, Tuma felt strongly about the subject and opened a company called Professional Negotiations, an organization that host lectures and assists with arbitration among conflicting parties.

“As one of my skills now, I try to contact people to negotiate with them instead of having a court battle to negotiate the case to a reasonable amount,” he says.

After years of dedication to the law profession, Tuma was initiated by the U.S. Supreme Court to a group of lawyers that are allowed to argue at the federal level. The induction ceremony was held by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and William Rehnquist. And for the past three years, Tuma has acted as a mentor to the Ohio State Supreme Court, guiding young lawyers.

“One never stands so tall as when he stoops to help a youth,” he says.

Throughout the years, Tuma mentored three of his seven sons who worked at his law practice. He also mentored actor Drew Carey when he was young through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio. Throughout the years, Tuma has remained close to Carey. He even appeared as an extra in the final episode of the Drew Carey Show. JCU


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