Law office innovations
Mark A. Chinn
CHINN & ASSOCIATES
Twenty years ago, while the rest of the world was sleeping,
Mark Chinn struggled with fits of anxiety.
“I’d wake up at 3 a.m., as if a little man had crawled on
my shoulder to tell me I forgot something,” says Chinn, 63,
a divorce lawyer and the only employee of Chinn & Associ-
ates in Jackson, Mississippi.
Inevitably, his wife, Cathy, would wake up to see him pull-
ing on his jeans in the wee hours and ask what he was up
to. “I didn’t really have an answer for her. I only knew that
I had to get to the office because something was wrong,
some deadline had passed, something had slipped through
the cracks,” says Chinn. “And when I got there, I realized
Chinn was having a crisis of faith—in his paper calen-
dar, and in his own memory. He looked for answers, “used
coaches, sought out advice, read every book I could get my
hands on about how to run a better law practice,” says Chinn.
Eventually, he found what he was looking for—in technology. He started using case-management software, and
ever since, his firm has gotten consistently leaner—and his
computer monitors have multiplied and gotten larger. “And
now I sleep at night,” he says.
Last summer, he added voice-recognition software to his
technological repertoire, and it’s changed everything all over
again. “It is the most transformative technology I’ve ever
come across,” says Chinn. “It makes everything else sing.”
And it’s helped Chinn complete his transition to a law
firm of one. There were 1 4 people in the firm until 2008,
when he started disassembling the team. His last two sup-
port staffers left for greener pastures last summer.
“I’m at a place where I not only don’t need assistance,
I don’t want it,” says Chinn, who was sold on the voice-recognition software when he discovered he could talk at
A Firm of One
It’s just Mark Chinn—and software BY JERRY GRILLO
least three times as fast as he could type. “I want to do
everything myself because it’s just plain faster.”
Now he sits before his three monitors, dictating and
sending emails with one voice command and opening up
case files with another, while his fingers hack out com-
mands that create a 10-page letter in seconds. This speed
and efficiency is a big reason why, in 2005, he went from
charging by the hour to a flat fee.
“If I charge by the hour, then the more efficient I get the
less money I’m going to make,” says Chinn. “I’m in this to
support my four daughters and my wife. I’m not busting my
tail and investing in nice computers and software to make
Given his bent for tech improvement, it’s no surprise
that Chinn has spent years on personal development, too.
He’s a licensed pilot, has earned a black belt in karate and
kickboxing, and is the author of three books, including The
Constructive Divorce Guidebook. He’s also completed the
outline for a fourth book that he plans to call A Divorce
Lawyer’s Guide to a Happy Marriage. For the record, he’s
been married 38 years.
“I find that working in the divorce world keeps me con-
scious of the issues that confront people,” he says. “It causes
me to examine my own conduct, and perhaps change the
way I do things so life will be happier at my own home.”
He’s positively evangelical on both marriage and
tech—steering clients toward couples counseling and
ending speaking engagements with a plea to use case-
“There’s a lawyer in my building who uses a fountain pen
and a legal pad, and he does fine, just fine,” Chinn says.
He pauses. “But I don’t think he realizes how much more
productive he’d be if he had some technology.”
Dell OptiPlex 7020
Three Dell monitors