How did you write "canned answers"? How did you know what the question was going to be?
I didn't (with the exception of the class where I knew we would have a policy question and wrote a general answer along the lines of what I thought would be asked). I wrote the rules--the rules are always the same. Granted, certain facts call for different standards (e.g. in personal jurisdiction analysis, it's relevant whether there's a contract/general jurisdiction/etc.) but these "forks in the facts" can be easily accounted for. So can forks in the law.
In Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, the Supreme Court held that there was no “federal common law” and that federal courts are to apply state law whether declared by the legislature in a statute or by the state’s highest court when sitting in a diversity jurisdiction suit. As such, when dealing with different state and federal practices, the first question is whether the two practices clash such that there is a direct conflict between the state and federal rule. Often times, the federal rule is narrower in its coverage than the state rule and – as such – courts can apply both the state and federal rules concurrently. See Ragan v. Merchants Transfer & Warehouse (holding that Rule 3 – which notes that an action is commenced by the filing of a suit – does not conflict with state law that permitted tolling of the statute of limitations until service was rendered); Cohen v. Beneficial Industrial Loan Corp. (federal rules do not conflict with state law requiring bonds to be issued for shareholders in shareholder derivative suit because federal rules do not require or prohibit bonds). A federal rule directly conflicts with a state law, however, where the two cannot be applied together. See Burlington Northern R. Co. v. Woods (holding that 10% appeals charge cannot coexist with federal rule). When there is a direct conflict between federal and state law, which law governs depends on the nature of the federal rule.
[CONSTITUTIONAL RULE: If the federal rule is predicated on the Constitution, the federal law always prevails under the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the US Constitution.]
[FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE/APPELLATE PROCEDURE: If the federal rule is predicated on a federal rule of civil (or appellate) procedure – the Rules Enabling Act, rather than the Rules Decision Act of which Erie was based – governs, and courts engage in a two-step inquiry. First, the rule must be Constitutional such that it could rationally be thought of as a procedural rule. This is a very deferential test. Second, the rule must be consistent with the Rules Enabling Act such that it does not modify, abridge or enlarge any substantive right – that is, it must not relate to the enforcement of a right or define a right itself. If a rule is consistent with both the Constitution, and the Rules Enabling Act, it is valid and is to be applied in favor of state law. See Hanna v. Plummer (federal rules on service of process prevail where state law requires in-hand service because federal rule is 1) arguably procedural and 2) does not modify, abridge or enlarge a substantive right).]
[STATUTE: If the federal rule is predicated on a procedural statute, the statute must be such that it could rationally be thought of as procedural. This is a very deferential test. See Stewart v. Ricoh (holding that Alabama’s refusal to enforce forum selection clauses cannot coexist with 28 U.S.C. 1404(a) which provides broad discretion to consider such items and that the statute is valid and superseding).]
[UNCODIFIED FEDERAL JUDICIAL PRACTICES/COMMON LAW: If the federal rule is predicated on an uncodified judicial practice or common law practice, the choice of law depends on whether the practice is “substantive” or “procedural.” Procedural rules promote efficiency, are a means for the enforcement of a right, apply inside the courtroom and are generally applicable. Substantive rules, on the other hand, embody a policy choice, govern conduct, define a right and are applicable to a particular type of case. If the conflicting state rule is substantive, the Rules Decision Act requires the federal courts to apply state law. See Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins. If the conflicting state rule is procedural, the federal procedural rule should generally apply. A state procedural rule may supersede a federal rule, however, if 1) the use of the federal rule is “outcome determinative” or 2) the use of the federal rule in favor of the state rule goes against the “twin aims of Erie.” If the difference in law would lead to a different outcome, the outcome determinative test suggests that the state procedural law should apply. See Guaranty Trust Co. v. York (state law prevails where federal “laches” doctrine would keep suit open while state statute of limitations would bar it); Woods v. Interstate Realty (Tennessee corporation unable to file in Mississippi state courts may thus not bring suit in Mississippi federal courts under diversity jurisdiction). Additionally, if the application of the conflicting federal rule would go against the twin aims of Erie by 1) encouraging intrastate forum shopping or 2) encouraging the inequitable administration of law, state procedural law should be used. See generally Hanna v. Plummer. However, even if either the outcome determinative test or the twin aims of Erie suggest that state procedural rules should apply in the face of a conflict, the court will apply federal law if a countervailing federal interest exists. See Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative (balancing the extent to which the outcome of trial by judge or trial by jury differs – if at all – against the importance of the federal interest in trial by jury).]