The head of mutual fund regulation at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Barry P. Barbash, said Wednesday that he is stepping down to return to private legal practice.

Mr. Barbash, 44, director of the SEC's division of investment management, will leave next month to become a partner of the New York law firm Shearman & Sterling. He will operate the firm's investment management practice out of its Washington office. An SEC spokesman said a successor has not been named.

In his four years at the SEC, Mr. Barbash oversaw the introduction of regulations to improve the clarity of disclosures in mutual fund prospectuses and implemented provisions of the National Securities Markets Improvement Act of 1996.

He also worked with foreign regulators to develop international policy guidelines for regulating investment company operations and fund sales.

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