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Creating the Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada: The Use of Legal Flexibility in Spanish Company Law, 1869–1953

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2016


Spain approved the first law of Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada (SRL)—a legal form similar to the German GmbH—in 1953. However, the SRL had already been used, albeit without its own legislation, since the 1920s. How was this possible in a country whose legal system was based on civil law? Its 1885 Commercial Code lacked the numerus clausus principle for enterprise forms, a feature that gave entrepreneurs unusual freedom in organizing their firms, and in adopting new business forms not defined in the code. It also invites us to rethink the notion of rigidity in civil law.

Research Article
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College 2016 

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43 An example was Compañía Telefónica Montañesa, as seen in the company's books in the business register of Madrid (no. 4056, 1920). The founders were all relatives: Leopoldo Gálvez, María José Gálvez Rubio de Villejas, and Roberto Gálvez Rubio de Villejas. Data collected by Guinanne and Martínez-Rodríguez, “Choice of Enterprise Form.” After 1916, information regarding corporations was published in yearbooks; see Anuario Financiero y de Sociedades Anónimas (Madrid, 1916–).

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46 Data from Guinanne and Martínez-Rodríguez, “Choice of Enterprise Form.” In 1920, the exchange rate was 23.30 pesetas per British pound and 6.37 pesetas per U.S. dollar. Pablo Martín and María de los Angeles Pons, “Sistema financiero y monetario,” in Estadísticas Históricas de España, siglo 19 y 20, ed. Albert Carreras and Xavier Tafunell (Bilbao, 2005), 705.

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61 Wenceslao Roces, “Prólogo,” in La Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada, ed. E. Feine (Madrid, 1933), accessed 12 Mar. 2015,

62 Arruñada, “Institutional Support,” 4.

63 General Directorate of Registers and Notaries resolutions consulted are published in Repertorio de Legislación Aranzadi (Madrid, 1930– ). Supreme Court decisions are published in Jurisprudencia Civil: Colección Completa de las Sentencias Dictadas por el Tribunal Supremo (Madrid, 1861– ).

64 Cándido Paz-Ares, “¿Cómo entendemos y cómo hacemos derecho de sociedades?” in Tratado de la sociedad limitada (Madrid, 1997), 159–206.

65 Commercial courts worked until 1868 in Spain and only at the local level.

66 Rubin, “Why Is the Common Law Efficient?” 51–63.

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77 “Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, 17-11-1928,” Repertorio de Legislación (Pamplona, 1929).

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79 “(94) Sentencia del Tribunal Supremo, 4-2-1929,” Jurisprudencia Civil: Colección Completa de las Sentencias Dictadas por el Tribunal Supremo (Madrid, 1930).

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87 Joaquín Garrigues, the head of the team that drafted the two laws, belonged to the group of intellectuals that supported the totalitarian and antiliberal doctrines prior to the Civil War. Martínez-Rodríguez, “Sin ley.”