I vote for the beneficial use of the hakama. My experience is in dojos that only wear them at dan grades though, and I am a bit leary of wearing them earlier.
They can be dangerous, and I've certainly had mine stepped on, or caught my toes in it! I do worry about getting caught up in it (especially as I like to wear mine at a traditionally long length). My old teacher had someone kneel on his hakama (by mistake) when he was being thrown in a high fall, and he came down hard on his shoulder and separated it. It has never completely recovered after 12 years, and gives him lots of problems still.