Chemical modification of kraft lignin from Pinus caribaea (Sénécl.) W.H.G. was performed with cyclic anhydrides (succinic, maleic and glutaric) assisted by microwave radiation. Esterification of the lignin was proven by the mass increase and Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Aqueous suspensions of bentonite were prepared using unmodified lignin and the corresponding derivatives as dispersants. Suspensions were evaluated in term of stability, viscosity and dispersibility. The esterified derivatives showed better dispersing properties than the neat lignin because the derivatives-based suspensions were less viscous. The dispersing properties of lignin and the esterified derivatives were compared with those of a high-molecular-weight lignin fraction obtained by ultrafiltration. In addition, two commercial lignosulfonate dispersants commonly used for drilling muds were used as references. The high-molecular-weight esterified derivatives proved to be better dispersants than their unfractionated counterparts. In general, the esterified derivatives showed similar properties to those obtained with the commercial dispersants. Modified lignin based on succinic-, maleic- and glutaric-anhydride is expected to play a key role in the design of novel bio-based dispersants for drilling-mud applications.