Lessons are definitely worthwhile, but unless you're made of money, look for deals and group lessons. Also choose a mountain that has a good focus on teaching beginners and offers season long adult clinics. You don't need to start at the biggest, most expensive mountain. Commit to as many weekends as possible to advance your skills quickly.
Are lessons worth it? [a Beginner Zone question for skiing or snowboarding] - Page 2
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See if your mountain has deals for beginners. I did this and the cost of rentals + lessons + lift ticket was less than the cost of a lift ticket. For me, a snowboarder learning to ski, lessons were not worth it and I managed to pick up skiing way faster in the time outside my lessons. However, I've had a few skier friends learn to snowboard and they had a much rougher time of it. So, I would encourage you to take lessons.
As for your knees, they will probably take a beating from falling, at least at first. I don't know about it being better for your knees on the whole, but you'll definitely be at lower risk for knee injuries.