There is a tendency today for people to get all they can when dealing in business and personal affairs. Some have called our time “The Age Selfishness.” Paraphrasing from the book of books, the Holy Bible, it is better to give more than you expect to get. Here is a story that illustrates this.
Daniel Webster graduated from Dartmouth College and started practicing law in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1805. He loved his work and spent time apprenticing with an attorney who was established and had an outstanding reputation. He was just like anyone else starting out in his career, unknown and penniless. Times were tough and money was scarce in his newly opened practice. He barely had enough to pay his weekly board bill. The average beginning salary for self-employed farriers may be very low. It takes effort and time to build a business.
One morning there was a knock at the door of his humble office. Webster opened it, and the Portsmouth blacksmith entered. The smoke and soot from the forge was heavy upon him. His hands and leather apron displayed ground-in coal dust. “I’m in need of legal advice. I’d rather not deal with lawyers, but I have no choice here. Someone is trying to take something that’s rightfully mine.”
The legal question involved some peculiar point of land law that Webster couldn’t answer right off hand. He told the blacksmith he would give his opinion in three days, as he didn’t want to admit he didn’t know the answer. We should do the same when we don’t know, instead of making up a con man’s lie.
Webster searched the few books he had, but could find nothing similar to the blacksmith’s case. He felt compelled to find the answer. Have you ever felt that way about a horse foot problem?
Although he really couldn’t afford it, Webster took the stagecoach from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Boston, Massachusetts and spent the entire day in the law libraries there. He was surprised to discover that the point in question had never come up in that form before in America. Beginning farriers are often presented with situations that are new to them.
Nevertheless, in his study that day he did find similar cases in the statutes and common law of England. Webster constructed a theory of equity consistent with decisions in similar cases, made copious notes, purchased the volumes he needed to prove his case, and took the night coach home to Portsmouth. He was confident he could win the case and told the blacksmith he would be his advocate. We shouldn’t take on a job either until we are adequately prepared and confident we can do it to a high standard.
Webster easily won the case. The lawyer for the other side was overwhelmed, embarrassed, and buried by Webster’s presentation of the case. Coming out of court the happy blacksmith asked, “Well, how much do I owe you Mr. Webster?” We earn the respect of our clients and cause them to want to reward us when we do our best.
“Oh,” answered the lawyer, who was aware of the man’s poverty and was always careless about money matters himself, “pay me whatever you think you can afford.” “Well,” said the blacksmith, “You seemed to run it off pretty easily, so I guess a dollar will be about right?” We short-change ourselves as well as our families when we are careless about business. Many farriers seem more intent on perfecting their skill in forging and b.s.ing rather than in business.
Daniel Webster took the money without comment and returned to his office. He recorded in his record book that for his journey to Boston and the books he had bought that cost him over $40 he had received the magnificent sum of $1! We each have lessons of life that cost us dearly.
Twenty-five years passed. During this time Webster built his reputation as a nationally prominent lawyer, orator, and statesman. He continued to study and became a Congressman and eventually a U. S. Senator. He was accepted and acclaimed as “the Zenith of the American bar.”
One day the president of a large railroad telegraphed him. They met in Webster’s big well-appointed office in Boston. “Mr. Webster, I want to put before you a question that vitally affects the future of my company. The lawyers I have consulted give me no hope. The case is to be tried in 2 weeks and they say we can’t win.”
As the president explained the case, a smile came over Webster’s face. It was precisely the same case that involved the Portsmouth blacksmith. We can provide our clients with great value too, after we’ve paid the price.
Webster remained impassive and reserved. “This is a very complex problem. I’m sure I can help you if you give me the necessary authority.” The client felt hope for the first time. They shook hands and the client wrote out a check for $5000 as a retainer fee.
As soon as the client left, Webster went to his files and found his notes made many years before. In only two hours of study his memory was refreshed enough to prepare him to go before the highest court in Massachusetts. It doesn’t take long to prepare for a new situation if we pay the price the first time.
His arguments reduced the opposition to rubble. Without leaving the bench, the judges decided in favor of Webster’s client. The railroad president was ecstatic! He had been handed a victory in the face of certain defeat. He wrote out a check for $10,000, placed it in an envelope with a grateful letter of appreciation and handed it to Webster.
Daniel Webster returned to his office and opened the envelope. He read the letter and looked at the check. He pulled down his record book from the shelf and described the case and its conclusion. Then, he added this postscript: “I have now received the blacksmith’s fee – paid with compound interest.”
This story in its original form was written by Kenneth P. Wood and first published in Future Magazine. The story in this form was adapted by Ted Gibbons©1998 as Daniel Webster and the Blacksmith’s Fee. I first used it is the first Farrier Focus™ Business Conference in 2000. It has great application to farriers as well as to other professionals. We should always do our best in spite of what seems at first to be a meager return. Learning your craft well and giving more than you expect to get will always repay you with compound interest!
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