California auto accident lawyers normally represent people on a contingency basis. This means that they do not charge you unless you win. When you win, they get paid by taking a percentage of the settlement or judgment.
When you retain an auto accident lawyer, you will sign a retainer contract. The retainer contract dictates the terms of payment. Some auto accident lawyers ask for the filing fee and office expenses up front (this is minimal), others do not require up front payment of costs and will take those out of the winnings.
Auto accident lawyers may ask you more about your personal life, so that they get to know your standard of living prior to the accident. Part of the compensation, whether or not there was negligence involved on the part of the person who caused the accident, is to get fair compensation for your loss of lifestyle. Some accident injuries may never completely resolve, and you should be paid for the ongoing medical care and ongoing loss of standard of living.