CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — Illinois judges are learning how to help the growing number of people representing themselves in court without a lawyer.

Judge Thomas Donnelly says there’s been a real surge in self-representing litigants due to the high cost of getting a lawyer. In 2015, 65 percent of the civil cases outside of Cook County involved at least one person who represented themselves, according to the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts.

As a result, Judge Donnelly says Illinois judges are learning how to level the playing field.

“We’re trying to train judges to be what we call ‘engaged neutrals,’ so that if there is a need for legal information, we try to provide it.”

The conference, which is to meet continuing legal education requirements for judges, will also have some of them do homework.

“We’ve had them visit correctional institutions, or juvenile detention centers, and then have discussions with experts about those issues that they’ve become aware of,” Donnelly said.

Next month’s conference will talk about how to offer legal information, but not legal advice. “To give legal information about how you do something as opposed to suggesting what you should do,” Donnelly added.

Other sessions at the Judicial Conference cover cyber bullying, sexting and changes in custody laws, as well as other new developments.

“We’ve tried to give the judges all the most up-to-date science and legal background so that they can go back on the bench in 2018 and be the best judges they can be,” Donnelly said.

He says judges also want time to hear how their colleagues handle some of the job’s challenges.