Allard Law alum Joven Narwal is a leading trial and appellate lawyer at Narwal Litigation LLP in Vancouver. When he’s not dedicating time to the legal and broader community, Joven, who was an avid martial artist and grappler from the age of 8 until the end of law school, also serves as a director of the British Columbia Wrestling Association and tries to catch every big MMA and boxing event he can while ringside in Las Vegas, when his schedule permits.
Joven Narwal was inspired to study law by his father’s own journey as a lawyer. A practicing lawyer in India, Joven’s father, Pritpal Narwal, came to Canada from India in 1976. At that time, there was no accreditation process to have his Indian law degree recognized in Canada, and he became an entrepreneur and later one of the first Punjabi-origin Notary Publics in BC.
“The early genesis of my desire to become a lawyer was certainly the fulfillment of my father’s own unfulfilled dream of becoming a lawyer in Canada,” Joven notes. He says he was also fascinated by many of the legal cases that were in the spotlight during his childhood. Growing up in the Punjabi Market in South Vancouver, he spent much of his youth at his parents’ Notary Public office – one of the first of Punjabi origin in British Columbia. He describes the era he grew up in as a “watershed in the socio-economic, cultural and political history of the Punjabi-Sikh community, in which there were serious legal controversies.” He also recalls the reverence and respect that community members had for the lawyers involved in those cases.
Joven’s maternal roots in British Columbia date back to his great-grandfather’s arrival in 1906. A staunch leader in independent movements in Punjab, India, Joven’s grandfather became a community organizer and the first Punjabi-Sikh union delegate in British Columbia, even leading a delegation to meet with former Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent in Ottawa to advocate for the easing of immigration restrictions.
Joven notes that he was likewise inspired to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps by hearing stories of his forefathers and growing up during the historically significant days in the Punjabi market, where he says he witnessed a community striving for a firmer foothold in society. “I was left with a sense that it was my generation’s responsibility to build upon the achievements of the past,” he adds.
Since his call to the bar in 2008, Joven says he has since witnessed a generation striving for a firmer foothold in the profession, “pursuing excellence and advancing the goal of inclusion through a collective effort in organizations such as the South Asian Bar Association and Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers to name just two.” He notes that his own sense of community and belonging in the legal profession over the years can be attributed to the effects of initiatives and groups such as these.
After graduating from Allard Law in 2007, Joven began his career as a Crown Prosecutor in Vancouver. “The most valuable lesson was the understanding of the awe-inspiring power a prosecutor holds and the importance of principled decision-making in the exercise of it,” he notes.
“It’s the Crown who has the power to lay or stay a charge… among many other decisions such as offering resolutions, proceeding by indictment or summarily and many others that have life-altering consequences for accused persons caught in the system.”
With the lifelong dream of living in New York and attending Columbia University, Joven took a one-year leave from his role as Crown Prosecutor to pursue an LLM. He says the model of practice he witnessed in New York ultimately shaped his own practice: “With its proximity to Wall Street, Columbia Law School was a thought leader on white-collar crime and enforcement. I was at the epicentre, watching dramatic prosecutions such as Bernie Madoff’s unfolding and saw a type of practice in New York where great trial lawyers would defend persons from multiple jeopardies at once such as criminal, regulatory, civil and also provide preventative regulatory compliance advice.”
After returning to Vancouver upon completing his LLM, Joven says he had a vision to start a legal practice that would “involve defending individuals and entities vis a vis the state or institutions, in the context of criminal law, securities litigation, professional regulation, as well as civil cases with criminal overtones involving fraud, civil forfeiture, and intentional tortious conduct.” Today, Joven is a leading trial and appellate lawyer at Narwal Litigation LLP in Vancouver, which he founded in partnership with his wife and fellow Allard Law grad, Cheryl D’Sa. As of 2023, Narwal Litigation LLP is six lawyers strong and covers various practice areas such as white-collar defence, criminal and securities litigation, and professional regulation. Joven and Cheryl’s son, who was born in 2016, also frequents the office’s large playroom.
As part of his legal practice, Joven is often involved in pre-charge advocacy work to persuade prosecutors and regulators not to charge or take enforcement action. He notes that his early days as a prosecutor are helpful in his current work, providing a “principled path” that enables him to recognize the power the Crown holds to make life-altering decisions for accused persons caught in the criminal justice system.
In addition to his law practice, Joven has served and continues to serve in numerous community leadership positions. He was the first visible minority president of the Vancouver Bar Association and also served as the Chair of the Canadian Bar Association (Criminal Subsection), Director and Governor and Executive of the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, and the Director of the South Asian Bar Association of British Columbia. Joven was also admitted to practice as a defence counsel before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Joven attributes his early development as a lawyer to the upper-level seminars and moot competitions he participated in while in law school, including the Peter Burns Trial Competition, the Western Canada Trial Competition and the Sopinka Cup. “I was the beneficiary of the most in-depth training any aspiring trial lawyer could receive. It also opened many doors for me in my career, including a path to the Crown office upon my call to the bar and through contacts I made with coaches in the defence bar.” Now, he says sees it as his duty to give back to the moot program, which he has done both as a coach and as a sponsor.
Joven has also remained deeply connected with the law school in his role as an adjunct professor. “As I started my career, I still longed for the opportunity to reflect on the law and its direction, unencumbered by the interests of the parties to litigation,” he explains. “It was the desire to continue engaging with the law on that level that inspired me to begin teaching.”
In developing courses at Allard such as “White Collar Crime” and “Criminal Organizations,” Joven says his goal has always been to offer academic material that he would have been interested in as a law student. Teaching, he says, has also made him a better lawyer: “Reflecting on the law in an academic setting, deconstructing it and debating it with law students is refreshing and not a year has gone by without my feeling as if I learned something new or gained new perspective.”
When asked what advice he would offer to new graduates entering the legal profession, Joven recalls what late Allard Law Dean George F. Curtis told him: “Do good work, and money and everything else will come.” Joven also advises new graduates not to let the legal profession overcome all facets of their lives. “While the hierarchy of priorities and the devotion of resources to [yourself, friends/family, the profession, and clients] will naturally fluctuate,” Joven reminds new graduates that “it is crucial to ensure that these are conscious decisions and that you maintain the ability to meaningfully re-evaluate and recalibrate along the way.”
This interview with Joven Narwal was conducted in November 2022. Sadly, Joven’s father, Pritpal Narwal, passed away in January 2023. Learn more about Pritpal Narwal’s remarkable life.