Alfonso Gunaratnam headshot.

Summer Law Extern: Alfonso Gunaratnam, Minnesota Court of Appeals

Law school has solidified for 3L Alfonso Gunaratnam that he wants to be a litigator, in part, because he has been diligent about finding ways to explore the career path as a student. This summer, he completed a judicial externship with Judge Diane Bratvold in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Gunaratnam says having the opportunity to observe and work with a judge will help him better serve his clients in the future. 

“I learned what judges look for when they read the parties’ briefs and at oral argument,” he said. “I frequently attended my judges’ chambers meeting after oral arguments, and she and her clerks would discuss what the attorneys did really well in their briefs and at oral argument as they talked through the case. Knowing what judges look for and what they think about while reading the briefs will be invaluable as I write my own someday.” 

Gunaratnam was placed at the Court of Appeals as part of St. Thomas Law’s Legal Externship Program, which offers law students the opportunity to explore legal careers and provides them with relevant professional experience.  

Judge Diane Bratvold (l) and Alfonso Gunaratnam

Externships also offer students a chance to use, in a real-world setting, the legal writing and research skills they have learned in the classroom. 

“My work consisted of conducting research and cite-checking opinions in circulation,” Gunaratnam said. “I was also responsible for writing one of the bench memos and providing a recommendation for the panel. After conferencing, I was entrusted to write the first draft of the opinion, which was an incredible feeling.” 

He says writing as a representative of the appeals court also challenged him during his externship. 

“This was the first time that I was writing from a place where I was resolving a dispute between two parties,” Gunaratnam said. “I am used to writing as an advocate, so writing as a neutral at the Court of Appeals was an unexpected challenge.” 

Gunaratnam’s summer at the Court of Appeals exposed him to the legal system from the other side of the bench, but he says he hasn’t yet made any definitive decisions about his career. 

“I’m still trying to narrow it down,” Gunaratnam said. “I spent two years working in human resources before law school and developed a strong interest for protecting employees’ rights and interests. And after 1L year, I was a law clerk at the Hennepin County Public Defender’s office. I’m also intrigued by constitutional law issues, particularly the first amendment and religion.” 

Ultimately, he has one more year of law school and has plans for more ways to explore his options. 

“I’m still trying to figure out exactly which route I want to go, but for now I’m focusing on finishing my last year strong. I’m competing in moot court this year, and I think that will help.”