One large issue in these cases is whether the defendant has insurance that covers the claim and if not whether the defendant has substantial assets to collect a judgment from.
I am a former federal and State prosecutor and now handle criminal defense and personal injury/civil rights cases. Feel free to check out my web site and contact me at (212) 577-9797 or via email at Eric@RothsteinLawNY.com. I was named to the Super Lawyers list as one of the top attorneys in New York for 2012. No more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by Super Lawyers. The above answer is for informational purposes only and not meant as legal advice.
In 38 years of law practice I know of exactly one successful defamation case that was taken on a contingency. If you can get Rothstein to represent you, you are fortunate.
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There are lawyers who will handle it on a contingency basis if there is a likelihood of success and the defendant ha a means of paying a settlement or judgment. So if the defendant is insured or acted in behalf of a corporation or has assets then you can find a lawyer. Otherwise the likelihood of recovery is tricky and a lawyer may want to be paid on an hourly basis.