Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Attorn or Attornment Definition:

To consent, implicitly or explicitly, to a transfer of a right.

Related Terms: Jurisdiction, Private International Law, Choice of Law Clause

Often used to describe a situation where a tenant, by staying on location after the sale of the leased property, accepts to be a tenant of the new landlord; or where a person consents to ("attorns to") the jurisdiction of a court which would not have otherwise had any authority over that person.

Rapalje explains the origin of the word;

"Norman French: atourner, from the Latin tornare, to turn in a lathe.

"Attourner was used not only to signify the acceptance of a new lord by the tenant, but also the transfer of the tenant's services by the old lord to the new, so that the primary sense of the word seems to be to change or assign."

The word has significance in private international law in the context of jurisdiction as a  person not otherwise obligated, might attorn to jurisdiction of another state. This can happen in a family law case as it could happen in a commercial law case, usually by filing a statement of defence or a response or the appointment of a lawyer for a party without any reservation as to issues of jurisdiction.

In an agreement between companies in different states, especially in an adhesion contract, a clause will often provide that the accepting party attorns to the jurisdiction chosen by the offerer, or attorn to arbitration in the event of any dispute, such as a Scott v Avery Clause. Such an attornment clause willl often be accompanied by a choice of law clause.


  • Rapalje, Stewart and Lawrence, Robert, A Dictionary of American and English Law, Volume II (Jersey City: Frederick D. Linn & Co. Law Publishers and Booksellers, 1883), page 96.

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