Legal Careers with the State Public Defender

The Office of the State Public Defender is responsible for coordinating Iowa's Indigent Defense System. Our mission is to ensure that all indigent persons in Iowa are provided high quality legal resprentation in criminal, juvenile, and other eligible proceedings in the most efficient and fiscally responsible manner. Positions may be located in the seventeen local public defender offices throughout the state, the Appellate Defender's Office, or the Administrative Office.  The local public defender offices provide representation for indigent persons primarily in criminal and juvenile cases at the trial level in all of Iowa's 99 counties.  The Appellate Defender's Office represents indigent persons in appeals of criminal and post-conviction relief cases arising statewide.  The Administrative Office assists in management of the State Public Defender system and administration of the Indigent Defense Fund, including review of indigent defense fee claims.


We seek attorneys who are passionate about providing competent and zealous representation for their clients in criminal and juvenile proceedings. While many cases resolve through plea negotiations or other noncontested proceedings, we expect public defenders to be trial attorneys, capable and eager to try a case to the court or a jury.  Prior criminal courtroom experience, through court-appointed cases, criminal prosecution, law school clinics, or public defender or prosecution internships are preferred.  A successful candidate for an appellate defender position will be a compelling writer, a strong oral advocate, and an expert researcher and legal analyst.  Previous appellate practice experience and a state or federal clerkship are preferred.

All public defenders and appellate defenders must be licensed to practice law in Iowa prior to commencement of their appointment with the Office of the State Public Defender.

Application Process

To apply for an attorney position with the Office of the State Public Defender, applicants must apply through the Department of Administrative Services, which will qualify applicants for the vacancies.  Detailed instructions and an online application system are available on the Department of Administrative Services website.  Applicants should continue to watch for posted job vacancies and apply again when a specific position is posted for hiring.

Compensation and Benefits

The Office of the State Public Defender provides competitive compensation and benefits.  Attorneys may be hired in the following job classifications and salary ranges:

Public Defender 1 / Appellate Defender 1 $54,745.60 - $83,324.80 (Pay Grade 29)
Public Defender 2 / Appellate Defender 2 $68,536.00 - $105,518.40 (Pay Grade 34)
Public Defender 3 / Appellate Defender 3 $88,608.00 - $126,172.80 (Pay Grade 38)
Public Defender Supervisor 1 $90,230.40 - $128,460.80 (Pay Grade 39)
Public Defender Supervisor 2 $103,896.00 - $147,763.20 (Pay Grade 42)

The precise classification and pay range for a position is included in the job posting.   Typically, a new employee will start at the minimum of the posted pay range.   Attorneys hired as a Public Defender 1 (or Appellate Defender 1) are eligible for promotion to Public Defender 2 (or Appellate Defender 2), after successful completion of the SPD New Attorney Development Program and 18 months of service at the discretion of the State Public Defender.

Benefits include:

  • Health, Dental, and Long-term Disability, and Life Insurance
  • Paid vacation (two weeks annually for first four years, increasing thereafter), sick leave, and eleven holidays
  • Iowa Public Employee Retirement System (IPERS) and voluntary deferred compensation programs

More information is available from the Department of Administrative Services Employee and Retiree Benefits Site, including the 2020 Benefits at a Glance guide for AFSCME-covered employees.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Applicants with student loan debt may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which can provide further substantial financial benefit to a position with the Office of the State Public Defender.  The Office of the State Public Defender is qualified public service employment under the program.  Thus, eligible employees with the appropriate type of student loans and sufficient financial hardship who make ten years of qualifying monthly payments in the appropriate repayment plan may have all their remaining student loan forgiven.  More information is available from the U.S. Department of Education and Equal Justice Works.

Current Opportunities

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