WASHINGTON (AP) _ Steven M.H. Wallman, a respected securities lawyer perhaps best known for working to deter hostile corporate takeovers, is a step closer to joining the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Wallman, 40, is President Clinton's choice to fill the vacant seat on the five-member commission, the powerful agency that polices mutual funds, stock exchanges and corporate finances.

His opening statement today to the Senate Banking Committee offered little insight into his stance on a range of issues before the SEC, such as derivatives and foreign accounting.

But Wallman pledged to work closely with federal bank regulators and commodity market regulators on ''matters of interest to all of us,'' such as the blurring between the banking and securities business.

SEC watchers say Wallman isn't a controversial nominee and expect he will be approved.

A partner with the Washington law firm Covington & Burling, Wallman is known for his work to deter corporate acquisitions for short-term gains, which were prevalent in the late 1980s. He helped draft legislation adopted in Pennsylvania and Ohio aimed at hostile takeovers.

He co-authored the first law in the United States that lets corporate directors take into account the interests of employees and communities in their decisions, according to the White House. Versions of this legislation were later adopted in other states.

''I really think that Steve is going to be the ideal SEC commissioner,'' said Brent Thompson, director of corporate finance at the National Association of Manufacturers. Thompson, who worked with Wallman on the anti-takeover efforts, said the attorney is ''a thoughtful person, measured and deliberate.''

Critics say anti-takeover advocates wind up protecting complacent managers of companies, which in some cases could benefit from new ideas and fresh faces.

Hostile takeovers became extremely controversial after new owners were reported making severe cuts in staff and restructuring the companies in a way that harmed local communities.

Wallman, a resident of Great Falls, Va., has represented clients including the National Football League, the Democratic National Committee and the Business Roundtable, according to forms he filed with the federal Office of Government Ethics.

Wallman isn't known as an activist in the Democratic Party and has never personally met Clinton. His legal work for the Democrats was for a mortgage on property owned by the Democratic National Party.

Wallman reported assets, primarily accounts in mutual funds and stock, that ranged in value from about $746,000 to $2.2 million, for the period of Jan. 1, 1993 to February 1994. The disclosure forms provide only certain ranges of the worth a person's assets but doesn't provide specific information.

The forms also reported income of $482,018 for the period from the Covington & Burling law firm.